Yamnaya ancestry: mapping the Proto-Indo-European expansions


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

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

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


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

1. Neolithic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Eneolithic

From Anthony (2019):

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

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

From Wang et al (2019):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Early Bronze Age

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Middle to Late Bronze Age

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

4.1. Bell Beakers

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

4.2. Palaeo-Balkan

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

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

4.3. Sintashta-Potapovka-Filatovka

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4.4. Afanasevo

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Damgaard et al. Science (2018):

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anatolian Farmer ancestry and Yamnaya origins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine, changes for clarity):

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


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

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



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

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

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

Genetic Composition of Iron Age Shirenzigou Individuals

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


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

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

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


European hydrotoponymy (III): from Old European to Palaeo-Germanic and the Nordwestblock


The study of hydrotoponymy shows a prevalent initial Old European layer in central and northern Germany, too, similar to the case in Iberia, France, Italy, and the British Isles.

The recent paper on Late Proto-Indo-European migrations by Frederik Kortlandt relies precisely on this ancestral layer as described by Jürgen Udolph to support a Danubian expansion of North-West Indo-European with East Bell Beakers, identified as the Alteuropäische (Old European) layer that was succeeded by Germanic in the North European Plain.

The Proto-Germanic homeland

The following are excerpts are translated from the German original (emphasis mine) in Udolph’s Namenkundliche Studien zum Germanenproblem, de Gruyter (1994):

Buy the book at De Gruyter’s site or at Amazon.

The following is a concise compilation of the investigation into nine points, which will be subsequently discussed: there are Brink (in the north brekk-), -by (on the Elbe), the name of the Elbe itself, germ, haugaz and blaiw, klint, malm / melm, the name of the Rhön, and the place name element -wedel.

I want to briefly summarize the results:

1. Brink has toponymically a clear focus in Germany between the Rhine and the Weser; in Schleswig-Holstein and Denmark it is almost completely missing, the Scandinavian place name documents show an accumulation in eastern Sweden. The English Brink names can not be associated with the Scandinavian ones. The “real” Scandinavian variant brekka, brekke, however, also appear on the Shetland and Orkney Islands and in central England.

2. The Central Elbian –by-place names have nothing to do with the Danish and Scandinavian -by-names.

3. The name of the Elbe has been carried from south to north and has become an appellative in Scandinavia. This clearly proves that a south-north migration has taken place.

4. The distribution of haugaz does not support a Nordic origin of the word. K. Bischoff in his thorough investigation never asked whether the reverse path from south to north would be possible. However, in comparison with the results of the study of other toponyms, this second option will be much more likely to be accepted. On the “problem of the gap” in the distribution (between Aller and northern Holstein) see page 910.


5. Completely missing is the assumption of Nordic origin in the case of hlaiwaz. A look at Map 67 shows this clearly.

6. Even in the case of klint, Denmark and Scandinavia are only marginally involved in the distribution of names. This contradicts the thesis that the English Klint names are of Nordic origin. On the other hand, Map 68 (Klit- / Klett-) shows how Nordic place names can have an influence on the British Isles.


7. Even in the case of germ, melm (ablauting malm, mulm), everything speaks for a continental Germanic starting point: here are all ablaut stages in the appellative vocabulary and in the toponymy, which shows together with the name Melmer perhaps the most ancient -r-derivations, which are unknown to the Nordic area, while the Nordic names, in turn, have a distinct tendency to spread to eastern Sweden, towards the Baltic Sea.

8. The name of the Rhön can only be interpreted with the aid of the Nord Germanic apellative hraun “boulder field, stony ground, lava field”. This does not mean that Nord Germanic peoples have given this name, but that the Common or Proto-Germanic peoples knew the appelative still. The Rhön owes its name to this language stage.

9. The spread of the fronds names in Germany, classified by E. Schröder as “North Germanic invasion”, can be explained differently: more important than the often younger names north of the Elbe in Schleswig-Holstein (type Wedelboek) are the place names near Braunschweig, Büren (Westphalia), and in the Netherlands, in which case a south-north spread is more convincing than the assumption of a Nordic expansion.


If you take the similar distribution maps 15 (wik), 31 (fenn), 36 (slk), 39 (büttel), 47 (live), 49 (quem), 50 (thing), 61 (brink) and 66 (haugaz) It can be seen from this (page 72, page 908) that there are parts of Germany which, to a lesser degree, are more heavily involved than others in Old Germanic place name formations: that applies to southern Thuringia, the Area between Werra and Fulda, the Magdeburger Börde and its western foothills to the Weser at the Porta Westfalica). On the other hand, the areas north of the Aller, Hanoverian Wendland and wide areas between the Lower Weser and the Lower Elbe (apart from the area around Osterholz-Scharmbeck as well as Kehdingen and Hadeln) are little and hardly affected.

There is no question that the reasons for the different dispersion can not lie in the name itself, but have other causes. H. Kuhn has considered the natural conditions of the landscape with the fronds. Comparing the place name expansion outlined here with a bog map of Lower Saxony, as found in numerous publications (Map 73, page 910), solves the problems: even today’s bog distribution of Lower Saxony, diminished through cultivation and drainage (albeit still considerable), reflects the fact that the early colonization and naming of northern Germany has been shaped and, to a certain extent, controlled by settler-friendly and not-settler-friendly conditions.

Distribution of bogs in Germany. Source: M. Sommer, Institut für Bodenlandschaftsforschung, ZALF, Müncheberg.

On the location of the Germanic Urheimat

According to the space briefly outlined by the present study, the Old Germanic settlement area in toponymic terms is roughly to be located between the Erzgebirge, Thüringerwald, Elbe, Aller and an open border in Westphalia, for the following reasons:

  • High proportion of old European names. This is a basic requirement, which of course is also fulfilled by other areas, but not by Schleswig-Holstein, Denmark and Scandinavia. (…)
  • Of particular importance was the discussion about relations with the north (the generally accepted ancient Germanic settlement area, section L, p. 830-917). I believe that the detailed study of the geographical names no longer allows one to assume a Scandinavian homeland of Germanic tribes. Too many arguments speak against it. It is much more likely to start with a northward migration (…).
Bell Beaker expansion ca. 2600-2200 BC. Top Left: Tentative location of the Pre-Proto-Germanic homeland (earliest stage), in the North European Plain between the Elbe and the the Aller (open border). Top right: PCA of the Bell Beaker period, with Netherlands EBA cluster (population west of the Germanic Urheimat) in red, and Battle Axe/Baltic CWC (population east and north of the Urheimat) in cyan. Bottom left: ADMIXTURE analysis of ancient DNA samples. Bottom right: Y-DNA haplogroup map. See full maps and PCAs.

Western border: Nordwestblock

Recently, W. Meid has once more dealt in detail with Kuhn’s thesis. After that, the most important criteria for the approach of this thesis are the following:

  1. -p- (and other shutter sounds) are partly not shifted in North German names;
  2. the existence of a -sí-suffix;
  3. -apa in river names;
  4. the suffix -andr-;
  5. certain words u. Name strains, e.g. Veneter, Belgian.
  6. Above-average relations of the northwestern block to Italic (Latin, Osco-Umbrian).

W. Meid agrees with Kuhn’s theses, but with limitations: “These evidences seem to indicate that the NW-space did not belong to the original settlement area of ​​the Teutons, but that the Germanization of this area or larger parts of it did not take place until relatively late, namely – as Kuhn thinks – after the Germanic sound shift or during its last phase. According to Kuhn’s own words this “space… appears as a block that has long defied Germanization”.

Udolph continues explaining why most of these non-Germanic examples are “optic illusions”, since he can explain most of them as from Old European to Old Germanic stages, which is mostly in agreement with the known features of Old European hydrotoponymy. For example, -apa- and -andra-names as Old European; -p- as before the Germanic sound shift; -st- and -s-formations as Northern European; -ithi- also unrelated to a hypothetic “Venetic” substrate.

I think that the point to discuss should not be the similarity with Old European or the oldest reconstructible Proto-Germanic stage (i.e. the closest to North-West Indo-European), or the appearance of these traits also in neighbouring Germanic territory, but the proportion of “more archaic” features contrasting with the proper Germanic area, and thus differences in frequency with the Germanic core territories.

Just as Udolph can’t accept the non-Indo-European nature of most cases, one can’t simply accept his preference for a Pre-Proto-Germanic nature either, for the same reason one can’t accept the relationship of Western European “Pre-Celtic” hydrotoponymy with Celtic peoples because of some shared appellatives whose Celtic nature is not proven.

NOTE. If there is something missing from this huge book is certainly statistical analyses with GIS, which would make this case much easier to discuss in graphical and numerical terms. Let’s hope Udolph can update the data in the near future, because he is still (fortunately) active.

In any case, the Nordwestblock remains a likely Old European hydrotoponymic area partially shared by Germanic, which doesn’t lie at the core of the spread of Old European place names and has a potential non-Indo-European substrate shared with Northern European groups. Combined with comparative grammar and with results of population genomics supporting the spread of East Bell Beakers of Yamna descent from the Carpathian Basin, this essentially renders interpretations of Old European expansion from Northern Europe devoid of support in linguistics.

Palaeo-Germanic expansion

To the north, the settlement movement depends on the location and spread of settlement-deficient areas, such as the moors northeast of Wolfsburg, north of Gifhorn, south of Fallingbostel, etc. As soon as this belt has been breached, the place name frequency in the eastern Lüneburg Heath indicates where more favorable settlement conditions are to be found: the Altmark in Saxony-Anhalt, the Jeetzel lowlands and especially the Ilmenau area near Uelzen, Bevensen and Lüneburg (it is difficult not to recall the name Jastorf here).

If one combines these findings with the dispersion of ancient Germanic place names, one will find that above all the section of the river east from Hamburg to about Lauenburg was particularly favorable for crossing. The onomastic data speaks in favour of this aspect, e.g. the following names lying north and south of this area.


1. Delvenau = Elbe-Lübeck Canal.

2. Neetze north of Lüneburg (-d-/-t-change).

3. Wipperau north of Lüneburg (-p-/-b- change).

4. The dispersion of the -wik places (Bardowik), cf. Map 15, p. 106.

5. The dissemination of the -r formations (Map 24, p. 191).

6. The -ithi formations Geesthacht, Bleckede u.a. south of the Elbe, Eckede north of the stream (see Map 28, p.272).

7. Fenn south of the Elbe in the north of Lüneburg (Map 31, p.315).

8. The distribution of the Hor name (Harburg) and northeast of it in Holstein (Map 32, p.328).

9. Germ, sik- with clear clusters southeast. and northeastern. from Hamburg (Map 36, p. 409).

10. Also the -büttel names show a concentration east of Hamburg on the one hand and a second accumulation at the estuary of the Elbe (Brunsbüttel) (map 39, p.438).

11. Gorleben and other places in Hann. Wendland south of the river (Map 47, p.503).

12. Werber-names southeast from Hamburg and in eastern Holstein (Map 53, p.742).

13. The scattering of brink names (Map 61, p. 843).

The place name distributions also make it possible to track the settlement movement north of the Elbe. It has been repeatedly emphasized that Schleswig-Holstein has little share in old Germanic toponymy. One tries to explain this fact, which reaches into the realm of the Old European hydronyms, by saying that, according to archeology, “large parts of Schleswig-Holstein in the 5th to 7th centuries were sparsely populated”.

Close contacts in Fennoscandia. The distribution of Scandinavian flint daggers (A) in the east and south Baltic region and possible trends of “down the line” trade (B). Good size and quality flint zone in the south-west Baltic region is hatched (C). According to: Wojciechowski 1976; Olausson 1983, fig. 1; Madsen 1993, 126; Libera 2001; Kriiska & Tvauri 2002, 86. Image modified from Piličiauskas (2010).

If one summarizes these synoptically (Map 74, p.914) and also takes into account the not-included -leben-names (Map 47, p.503), then it is quite clear that Denmark by no means shares these types of names. The most important points are, in my opinion:

  1. North of today’s German-Danish border, the quantity of old place names drops rapidly and even tends towards zero. West Jutland in particular is rarely involved in the dispersion.
  2. Within Jutland there is a clear orientation to the east. The connection with southern Sweden is established via Funen and Zeeland.
  3. Disputed is in my opinion, whether the spread of toponymy followed a roughly direct line Fehmarn and Lolland/Falster. This is not to be excluded, but the maps of toponymy distribution do not give a clear indication in this direction.

The synoptic map makes it clear that both western Schleswig-Holstein and western Jutland are not to be regarded as Old Germanic settlement areas. Rather, East Jutland and the Danish islands were reached by Germanic tribes.

Bronze Age groups ca. 2200-1750 BC. Top Left: Tentative location of (1) the Pre-Proto-Germanic homeland (earliest stage), in the North European Plain between the Elbe and the the Aller (open border), (2) the Pre-Proto-Germanic expansion area, coinciding with the Nordic Dagger Period, and (3) the Pre-Proto-Germanic-like Nord-West-Block. Top right: PCA of European Bronze Age groups. Bottom left: ADMIXTURE analysis of ancient DNA samples. Bottom right: Y-DNA haplogroup map. See full maps and PCAs.

Absolute chronology and Balto-Finnic

It is imprecise to estimate the age of settlement movements from toponymic research. I do not want to be involved in speculation, but I think that Klingberg’s estimate could have some arguments in its favor. In the approximate dating, however, it is important to include a fact that has already been briefly mentioned above and should be treated here in more detail: the fact of Germanic-Finnic relations.

W.P. Schmid has emphatically pointed out the difficulty that arises when one considers the unfolding of Germanic too far from the Baltic Sea settlement areas. Among other things, it draws attention to the fact that a Germanic homeland that were postulated too far west could not explain how Germanic loanwords might appear in the Finnic names of Northern Russia. These will be mentioned with reference to M. Vasmer: Randale to Finn. ranta “beach”, Pel’doza and Nimpel’da to Finn. pelto, Justozero to Finn. juusto “cheese”, Tervozero to Finn. terva “tar” and Rovdina Gora to Finn. rauta “ore”.

I think it is possible that the clear spread of Old and North Germanic toponyms, as described in the synoptic map 74 (p. 914) and in the already mentioned -ing, -lösa, -by, -sta(d) and -säter-maps (19, 46, 63-65), can offer some help: quite early the Germanic tribes reached the Swedish east coast. It is also clear that there have previously been contacts with Slavic and Finno-Ugric tribes by sea. However, intensive German-Finnic relations can, in my opinion, have come about only through close contacts on the mainland.

Pre-Indo-European substrate

In my investigation, I have repeatedly come up with suggestions to explain a hard-to-interpret North Germanic name from a Pre-Germanic, possibly Non-Indo-European substrate. Most of these were views of H. Kuhn, which he also used to support his so-called “Nord-West block”.

On one point H. Kuhn may have been right with an assumption of a Pre-Germanic substrate that did not provide the basis for further development in Germanic terms: he very clearly argued that Scandinavia too was Pre-Germanic, even Pre-Indo-European A substrate that stands out above all because of the lack of Lautverschiebung : “In the Nordic countries, we have to reckon with non-Germanic, non-Indo-European prehistoric names scarcely less than in the other Germanic languages”. In light of the results of the present work that makes a relatively late Germanization of Scandinavia very likely, this sentence should not be set aside in the future, but carefully examined on the basis of the material.

Both data, the known long-lasting Palaeo-Germanic – Finno-Samic contacts, and the underresearched presence of non-Indo-European vocabulary in Scandinavia, are likely related to the presence of a West Uralic(-like) substrate in Scandinavia and most likely also in Northern Europe, based on the disputed non-Indo-European components shared through the North European Plain (see above), and on the scarce ancient Indo-European hydrotoponymy in central-east Europe to the north of the Carpathians.

Population genomics

Although there is yet scarce genetic data from northern European territories, the haplogroup distribution among sampled peoples from the Germanic migration period and during the Viking expansion suggests a prevalence of R1b-U106 in the North European Plain (also found in Barbed Wire Beakers), and thus a later integration of typically Neolithic (I1) and CWC-related (R1a) subclades to the Germanic-speaking community during the expansion into Southern Scandinavia.

This is compatible with the described development of maritime elites by Bell Beakers, representing maritime mobility and trade, and an appealing ideology, similar to the prevalence of Athens over Sparta (Corded Ware in this analogy). It is also supported by the bottlenecks under R1b-U106 to the north of Schleswig-Holstein.

NOTE. Nevertheless, other R1b-L151 may have been part of the Germanic-speaking communities, especially during its earliest stage, and also R1b-U106 (and other R1b-L161) subclades may appear all the way from the Carpathians to Northern Europe, including the Eastern European Early Bronze Age.

Common Germanic expansions ca. 500 BC on. Top Left: Early Iron Age cultures. Top right: PCA of groups from the Iron Age to the Middle Ages. Y-DNA haplogroups during the Germanic migrations (Bottom left) and during the Middle Ages (Bottom right). Notice a majority of R1b-U106 (practically absent from previous Bronze Age populations of Central Europe) among sampled Germanic tribes. See full maps and PCAs.


This sudden population bust to the south and predominance of a Southern Scandinavian maritime society in the Nordic circle seems to be also supported by inferences from archaeological data, too. For example, from the recent Human impact and population dynamics in the Neolithic and Bronze Age: Multi-proxy evidence from north-western Central Europe, by Feeser et al. The Holocene (2019):

The second boom between c. 3000 and 2900 cal. BC relates to increases in the palynological proxy and the binned all site SCDPD curve. From an archaeological point of view, this time reflects the transition from the Funnelbeaker to the Single Grave Culture. The emergence of this new cultural phenomenon is often regarded to have been associated with a shift in subsistence practices, that is, a shift from sedentary agricultural to mobile pastoral subsistence (Hinz, 2015; Hübner, 2005; Iversen, 2013; Sangmeister, 1972).

Left: Map with pollen sites. Right: Bin sensitivity plots based on summed calibrated date probability distributions (SPD) using different degrees of binning on-site level (h = 0 no binning; h = 1000 high binning) and Kernel density plots (KDE) of available radiocarbon dates from the settlement context (settlement sites). Modified from the paper to include a red arrow showing Corded Ware bust and subsequent boom with the Dagger Period..

(…) there is palynological evidence for increased importance of cereal cultivation during the Young Neolithic in comparison to the Early Neolithic (Feeser et al., 2012). This, however, does not rule out an increased importance of pastoralism, as grazing on grasslands and extensive cereal cultivation are difficult to distinguish and to disentangle in the palynological record. Generally however, human impact on the environment and population levels, respectively, did not reach Funnelbeaker times maxima values during this boom phase at the beginning of the Younger Neolithic. The similar short-term synchronous developments in both the pollen profiles during 2800–2300 cal. BC could point to large-scale, over-regional uniform development during the Younger Neolithic in our study area (cf. also Feeser et al., 2016).

Between c. 2400 and 2300 cal. BC, the palynological proxy and the binned all site SCDPD curve show a similar distinct decrease (Figure 6), and we define a second bust phase accordingly. The soil erosion record, however, indicates elevated values at around this time but declines, although not very well defined, to a minimum at around 2200 cal. BC. Due to the generally low number of colluvial deposits recorded for the Younger Neolithic, this is not regarded to contradict our interpretation, as low sample sizes generally minimize the chances of identifying a robust pattern. A strong increase in all the three proxies between 2200 and 2100 cal. BC defines our third boom phase.

Bronze Age evolution

Candidate homelands for the succeeding (Palaeo-Germanic) stages of the language are shifted also in archaeology to the south, due to the economic influence of demographically stronger Nordic Bronze Age cultural groups of northern Germany over Southern Scandinavia.

A good description of societal changes in the Palaeo-Germanic stages is offered by the recent paper Cultural change and population dynamics during the Bronze Age: Integrating archaeological and palaeoenvironmental evidence for Schleswig-Holstein, Northern Germany, by Kneisel et al. The Holocene (2019):

Qualitative data from material culture and demography in Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Modified from the original to remark periods of likely demographic decrease (red square) and growth (blue square).

At each beginning of a boom phase and each end of a bust phase, changes in the material culture could be observed.

When the pressure on the landscape is at its lowest around 1500 BC and shortly before it rises again, the type of burial changes, hoards and bronzes increase, and monumental burial mounds are erected again. Vice versa, when the pressure on the landscape reaches its maximum value around 1250 BC, tools and hoard depositions decrease again and only the monumental burial and prestige goods are maintained. The ‘elite’ are continuing with their way of burial. The reduction in house surface area and the number of hoards takes place earlier, possibly because of material scarcity as could also be proven in Thy, northern Jutland (Bech and Rasmussen 2018).

Again, the human impact decreases, and at its lowest point at the beginning of Period IV ca. 1100 BC, the monumental burial custom and the addition of prestige goods also end. The number of hoards and graves begins to rise again, and cooking pits appear. Exchange networks shift with the beginning of Period V, while axes increase again together with a slight decrease in the human impact curve. The appearance of certain artefacts or burial rites at the beginning of such a period of upheaval seems to suggest the role of a trigger. With this analysis, we have defined several likely indicators for social change in the less distinct phases and societal change in the strongly pronounced phases around 1500 BC and 1100 BC and the most important triggers for the Schleswig-Holstein Bronze Age.

Distribution of burials with Valsømagle, Sögel and Wohlde blades with provenance known to parish. q = Valsømagle blades; s = Wohlde blades (small = one grave with a blade; medium = two graves with a blade); l = Sögel blades (small = one grave with a blade, medium = two graves with a blade, large = three graves with a blade). From Bergerbrant (2007).

While population movements can’t be really understood without a proper genetic transect proving or disproving archaeological theories, it seems that the intermediate zone of the Nordic circle was subjected to at least two demographic busts and succeeding booms during the Middle and Late Bronze Age periods, which not only affected the hydrotoponymy of Schleswig-Holstein (see above), but probably served as dynamic changes in the linguistic evolution of Palaeo-Germanic-speaking communities up to the Common Germanic expansion.

Read more on the Northern Early Bronze Age province.


Volosovo hunter-gatherers started to disappear earlier than previously believed


Recent paper (behind paywall) Marmot incisors and bear tooth pendants in Volosovo hunter-gatherer burials. New radiocarbon and stable isotope data from the Sakhtysh complex, Upper-Volga region, by Macānea, Nordqvist, and Kostyleva, J. Archaeol. Sci. (2019) 26:101908.

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

The Sakhtysh micro-region is located in the Volga-Oka interfluve, along the headwaters of the Koyka River in the Ivanovo Region, central European Russia (Fig. 1). The area has evidence of human habitation from the Early Mesolithic to the Iron Age, and includes altogether 11 long-term and seasonal settlements (Sakhtysh I–II, IIa, III–IV, VII–XI, XIV) and four artefact scatters (sites V–VI, XII–XIII), in addition to which burials have been detected at five sites (I–II, IIa, VII, VIII) (Kostyleva and Utkin, 2010). The locations have been known since the 1930s and intensively studied since the 1960s under the leadership of D.A. Kraynov, M.G. Zhilin, E.L. Kostyleva, and A.V. Utkin.

Sakhtysh II and IIa are the most extensively studied sites of the complex, with ca. 1500m2 and around 800m2 excavated, respectively. The burial grounds at both sites are considered as fully investigated.

AMS datings from the sites Sakhtysh II and IIa. Sampled contexts are given in parentheses (burial/hoard), “crust” indicates samples of charred organic
residues on pottery from cultural layer. For data, see Tables 1–2.

Sakhtysh chronology

The AMS dates do not support the previously proposed phasing of the Sakhtysh burials to early (4750–4375 BP/3600–3000 cal BCE), late (or developed; 4375–4000 BP/3000–2500 cal BCE), and final (4000–3750 BP/2500–2200 cal BCE): the early and late burials at Sakhtysh IIa do not stand out as two separate groups, and also the burials and hoards from Sakhtysh II, connected to the final phase, are temporally overlapping with these. Neither the use sequence, where the settlement and burial phases are non-overlapping and also complementary between the sites (Kostyleva and Utkin, 2010, 2014), finds support in the present material.

The AMS datings indicate that the Volosovo people started to bury their dead at Sakhtysh IIa after 3700 cal BCE; dates earlier than this may be affected by FRE or suffer from mixed contexts and poor quality of dates. The present data questions the interpretation that the Sakhtysh IIa cemetery was used without interruptions between 4800 and 4080 BP (Kostyleva and Utkin, 2010), i.e. for a millennium between 3550 and 2600 cal BCE. The AMS dates rather suggest a use period of some centuries only around the mid-4th millennium cal BCE, tentatively 3650–3400 cal BCE. This would also be more realistic considering the number of burials at the site.

The core area of Volosovo culture (after Kraynov, 1987) and the sites of the Sakhtysh complex (after Kostyleva and Utkin, 2010). Eurasian map base made with Natural Earth. Illustration: K. Nordqvist.

Volosovo chronology

The absolute dating of Volosovo culture was for a long time hampered by the small number of radiocarbon dates (see Kraynov, 1987). Today,>100 datings connected with it can be found in literature (Korolev and Shalapinin, 2010; Chernykh et al., 2011; Nikitin, 2012; Mosin et al., 2014). Unfortunately, the available dates do not form solid grounds for dating the cultural phenomenon, as many of them have quality-related issues, large measurement errors, and ambiguous cultural or physical contexts. Consequently, particular datings may be connected to different cultural phases by different scholars. Finally, a large part of the newly-published datings are obtained through direct dating of potsherds (Kovaliukh and Skripkin, 2007; Zaitseva et al., 2009), and therefore, their cogency must be faced with reservation (see Van der Plicht et al., 2016; Dolbunova et al., 2017).

The datings connected with Volosovo cover a wide time range between ca. 5500 BP (4400 cal BCE) and ca. 3700 BP (2100 cal BCE). However, datings from secure contexts, with good quality (error ca. 50 years or below) and no probable FRE, place the beginning of Volosovo culture to the first half of the 4th millennium cal BCE, around 3700–3600 cal BCE. This is also supported by the roughly coeval terminal dates given for the preceding Lyalovo (Zaretskaya and Kostyleva, 2011) and Volga-Kama cultures (Lychagina, 2018), as well as the appearance of related neighbouring cultures, for example, in the Kama region (Nikitin, 2012; Lychagina, 2018), the southern forest steppe area (Korolev and Shalapinin, 2014), and north-western Russia and Finland (Nordqvist, 2018). Still, the dating of many of these cultural phases suffers from the same problems as of Volosovo.

A handful of contested datings place the end of Volosovo culture to the final centuries of the 3rd millennium cal BCE, or even later (Kostyleva and Utkin, 2010; Chernykh et al., 2011; Nikitin, 2012). On the other hand, the new AMS dates indicate that Volosovo activities at Sakhtysh II and IIa ceased before or towards the early 3rd millennium cal BCE; if this reflects the general decline of Volosovo culture must be still confirmed by more dates from Sakhtysh and elsewhere. In this context, the general cultural development must be accounted for. To what extent – if at all – the Volosovo people were present after the arrival of the Corded Ware culture-related Fatyanovo-Balanovo populations? Based on the current, albeit scant and inconclusive radiocarbon data this took place from ca. 2700 cal BCE onwards (Krenke et al., 2013).

Corded Ware and Comb Ware hunter-gatherer-related populations in north-eastern Europe from ca. 2600 BC. See full map.


One of the interesting genetic papers in the near future will be the one that finally includes samples from Corded Ware groups in the forest zone (i.e. Fatyanovo-Balanovo and Abashevo), which will most likely confirm that they are the origin of the known genetic profile of Central and East Uralic-speaking peoples, seeing how West Uralic peoples show genetic continuity in the East Baltic area, coinciding with the Battle Axe culture.

Uralicists have come a long way from the 1990s, when the picture of Uralic before Balto-Slavic in the Baltic was already evident, and Uralians were identified with Comb Ware peoples. The linguistic data and relative chronology are still valid, despite the now outdated interpretations of absolute archaeological chronology, as happens with interpretations of Krahe or Villar about Old European.

As an example, here are some relevant excerpts from Languages in the Prehistoric Baltic Sea Region, by Kallio (2003):

NOTE. Kallio’s contribution appeared in the book Languages in Prehistoric Europe (2003), which I hold nostalgically close in my Indo-European library (now almost impossible to read fully). It is still one of my preferred books (from those made up of mostly unconnected chunks on European linguistic prehistory), because it contains Oettinger’s essential update of North-West Indo-European common vocabulary, which led us indirectly to our Modern Indo-European project from 2005 on.

In any case, the Uralic arrival in the region east of the Baltic Sea preceded the Indo-European one (…).

This theory that the ancestors of Finno-Saamic speakers arrived in the Baltic Sea region earlier than those of Balto-Slavic speakers is still rejected by some scholars (e.g. Napolskikh 1993: 41-44), who claim, for instance, that Finno-Saamic speakers would not have known salmons before they met Balts because the Finno-Saamic word for ‘salmon’ (i.e. *losi) is a borrowing from Baltic. Similarly, one could claim that English speakers would not have known salmons before they met Frenchmen because English salmon is a borrowing from French. In other words, Worter und Sachen are not necessarily borrowed hand in hand. Otherwise, it would not be so easy to explain how many Finnish names of body parts are borrowings from Baltic (e.g. hammas ‘tooth’, kaula ‘neck’, reisi ‘thigh’) and from Germanic (e.g. hartia ‘shoulder’, lantio ‘loin’, maha ‘stomach’).

A more probative argument is the fact that Balto-Slavic features in Finno-Saamic are mostly lexical ones (i.e. typical superstrate features), where Finno-Saamic features in Balto-Slavic are mostly non-lexical ones (i.e. typical substrate features). Note that there are more Balto-Slavic features in Finnic than in Saamic and more Finno-Saamic features in Baltic than in Slavic. This fact could be explained by presuming that Pre-Saamic was spoken north of the Corded Ware area and Pre-Slavic was spoken south of the Typical Pit-Comb Ware area, whereas Pre-Finnic and Pre-Baltic alone were spoken in the area, where both the Typical Pit-Comb Ware culture (ca. 4000-3600 BC) and the Corded Ware culture (ca. 3200-2300 BC) were situated. This area was most probably bilingual, until Finnic and Baltic won in the north and in the south, respectively.

As is well-known, the idea of Uralic substrate features in Balto-Slavic is not new (cf. e.g. Pokorny 1936/1968: 181-185). As recent studies (e.g. Bednarczuk 1997) have shown, their density is the most remarkable in the four Balto-Slavic languages spoken in the earlier Pit-Comb Ware area (i.e. Latvian, Lithuanian, Belorussian, Russian). On the other hand, occasional Uralisms in the other Balto-Slavic languages spoken west of the Vistula and south of the Pripyat may rather be considered adstrate features spread from the northeast.

Our beliefs from the 2000s. A hypothetic Uralic Comb Ware distribution before the arrival of a hypothetic North-West Indo-European-speaking Corded Ware. “Generalized distribution of the Pit-Comb Ware cultural complex (Mallory & Adams 1997: 430, Carpelan 1999: 257) and the most probable homelands of Saamic, Finnic, Mordvin, Mari, and Permic.”

The idea of Indo-European superstrate features in Finnic is not new either (cf. e.g. Posti 1953). As Jorma Koivulehto (1983) has recently shown, the earliest Indo-European loanword stratum in the westernmost Uralic branches alone can be considered Northwest Indo-European and connected with the Corded Ware culture (ca. 3200-2300 BC). Since this layer, there have been continuous contacts between Baltic and Finnic. According to Koivulehto (1990), the following stratum can be called Proto-Balt(o-Slav)ic and dated to the Late Neolithic period (ca. 2300-1500 BC). Note that this Proto-Balt(o-Slav)ic dating agrees with the established ones (cf. e.g. Shevelov 1964: 613-614, Kortlandt 1982: 181), when we remember the fact that archaeologists have also moved their datings back by centuries during the last decades.

Finally, there is also a Baltic loanword stratum which was not borrowed from the ancestral stage of Latvian, Lithuanian and/or Old Prussian but from some extinct Baltic language or dialect (Nieminen 1957). However, as these words still go back to the early Proto-Finnic stage, they can hardly be dated later than Bronze-Age ( ca. 1500-500 BC). Therefore, we may conclude that they were probably borrowed from a Baltic superstrate, which arrived in the Finnish Gulf area during the Corded Ware period and survived there until the Bronze Age, when it was no longer identical with other Baltic dialects. In any case, as later Baltic loanword strata concern southern Finnic languages alone, we may presume that this ‘North Baltic’superstrate had become extinct.

The traditional association of Uralic with Volosovo hunter-gatherers doesn’t make sense, since they neither miraculously survived for thousands of years nor mixed for hundreds of years with Corded Ware peoples, so we can now more confidently reject the recent assumption by Carpelan & Parpola that their language was adopted by incoming Fatyanovo, Balanovo and Abashevo groups, to develop into the known Uralic languages (more here). This includes one of the many models of the the Copenhagen group, who simplistically follow “Steppe ancestry” for Indo-Europeannes.

If one combines the known relative linguistic chronology with the North-West Indo-European hydrotoponymy layer, now more clearly identified as Old Europeans expanding with East Bell Beakers and derived Early Bronze Age groups, I think there is little space left for maneuvering out of the overwhelming evidence for a Uralic homeland in the forest-steppes, linked to the spread of late Sredni Stog/Corded Ware ancestry into north-eastern Europe and beyond the Urals.


European hydrotoponymy (II): Basques and Iberians after Lusitanians and “Ligurians”


The first layer in hydrotoponymy of Iberia is clearly Indo-European, in territories that were occupied by Indo-Europeans when Romans arrived, but also in most of those occupied by non-Indo-Europeans.

Among Indo-European peoples, the traditional paradigm – carried around in Wikipedia-like texts until our days – has been to classify their languages as “Pre-Celtic” despite the non-Celtic phonetics (especially the initial -p-), because the same toponyms appear in areas occupied by Celts (e.g. Parisii, Pictones, Pelendones, Palantia); or – even worse – just as “Celtic”, because of the famous -briga and related components. This was evidently not tenable at the end of the 20th century, and it is simply anachronistic today.

NOTE. Since Indo-Europeans and non-Indo-Europeans of Western Europe show strong Y-chromosome bottlenecks under R1b-P312 lineages, maps below show the evolution of cultural groups side by side with ADMIXTURE of ancient DNA samples instead. The map series on prehistorical migrations contains also Y-DNA and mtDNA maps.

Most excerpts below (emphasis mine) are translated from Spanish (see the original text here):

Top Left: Arrival of Indo-European-speaking East Bell Beakers and likely disruption of the Basque-Iberian community (ca 2500 BC on). Top Right: corresponding (unsupervised) ADMIXTURE map of ancient DNA samples. Arrival of Central European ancestry (“Steppe ancestry”, roughly represented by the blue color), with other components still prevalent, roughly including Anatolia Neolithic (brown), WHG (red), and sporadically Northern African (violet). Notice the high proportion of Central European ancestry in central and north-western Iberia. See full maps including Y-DNA and mtDNA. Bottom: PCA of Bell Beaker and contemporaneous samples.


While the non-Celtic Indo-European nature of Lusitanian is certain, the nature of the “Pre-Celtic” language spoken by peoples such as Cantabri, Astures, Pellendones, Carpetani and Vettones is still being discussed, due to the scarcity of material to work with.


From Hacia una definición del lusitano, by Vallejo (2013):

It is certain that the delimitation of the geographical area set by Tovar is still valid, basically determined by the known direct documents, that is, the traditionally accepted inscriptions (the classic ones of Lamas de Moledo, Arroyo de la Luz and Cabeço das Fráguas), in addition to the new ones from Arroyo and the recent one from Arronches, see Fig. 1), to which some others could be added: the new bilingual inscription from Viseu necessarily compels us to consider it as indigenous, because it contains terms that belong to the core of the language and not only onomastics (I refer to the nexus igo and the nicknames deibabor and deibobor). By virtue of this new incorporation, we can also consider other texts as indigenous, although they do not include a common lexicon (see Fig. 1, inscriptions 7 to 22), in the expectation that many Lusitanian scribes were consciously mixing two linguistic registers (code switching), one to refer to the deities (for which they frequently used indigenous inflection) and another for anthroponyms (always with Latin inflection).

Left: Early Bronze Age cultures in Iberia (in red, likely Indo-European groups; in green, likely non-Indo-European groups). Right: Unsupervised ADMIXTURE of ancient DNA samples. See full maps including Y-DNA and mtDNA.

Firstly, it is striking that this geographical profile drawn by the texts correspond almost exactly to the distribution of large series of anthroponyms and theonyms.* Among the abundant names of people we can highlight those with a large number of repetitions whose appearance is circumscribed to our region of study (see Fig. 2). Some of them are truly frequent and lack parallels on the outside, such as the stem Tanc / Tang- (of Tanginus) with no less than 130 attestations, or Tonc- / Tong- (of Tongius or Tongetamus) with 70. Others show also sufficiently representative figures as Camalus and Maelo (with 46 repetitions each), Celtius (with 29), Caturo or Sunua (with 23), Camira (with 22), Doquirus (with 20), Louesius (with 18), Al(l)ucquius (with 17) or Malge(i)nus (with 16). According to these quantities, it appears that these are not casual occurrences of names, taking into account that chance tends to be reduced to a minimum in the study of the Iberian Peninsula, since we can easily handle the entire peninsular corpus. In turn, Reue, Bandue, Nauiae and Crougiae are the theonyms that best represent the Lusitanian-Galician area, coinciding fundamentally (Figure 3) with the picture that anthroponymy and texts had drawn, although with less examples.

Top left: Lusitanian (long and short) inscriptions; top right: Map of the distribution of statue-menhirs and south-western stelae, by Rodríguez-Corral (2014) [(1) stelae in Beira Alta and Tras-os-Montes (Portugal), and Orense (Galicia, Spain); (2) both in the same territory: northwestern statue-menhirs and southwestern stelae; (3) hybridization of both into the same material form (stela/stela-menhir from Pedra Alta)]; bottom left: Lusitanian teonymy; bottom right: Lusitanian anthroponymy.

* The other subdivision of the onomastics, toponymy, presents difficulty in the elaboration of series, by the few repetitions of segments, once the universal element -briga has been eliminated.

It is not only these groups of names and roots that help us define a large northwestern area, but, as I have had occasion to mention in other places, some onomastic data that share a similar distribution can also be added: the desinence -oi (with an assimilation in -oe / -ui) of theonymic dative singular, the ending -bo of dative plural, the presence of the noun-forming suffix -aiko-, in addition to other phonetic features such as the passage of e> ei in anthroponymy, the reduction ug> uo the step of w> b.

Genetic isolation in modern north-western Iberia (northern Portugal / southern Galicia) is greater than in other Iberian regions, forming different ancestral clusters splitting before others (including Basques). Image from Bycroft et al. (2018). See explanatory video by Carracedo.


From The concept of Onomastic Landscape: the case of the Astures, by Vallejo (2013):

(…) First of all, it seems that there is an independent onomastic area, which can be defined by a series of names and suffixes that are repeated there exclusively or predominantly. This area does not seem to correspond with what we know of the Lusitanian-Galician onomastics nor of the more coastal Asturian; it also differs from the Celtiberian area, with which it does not have features in common. In this way, and always in the conjectural terrain, we could find ourselves before an Indo-European non-Celtic language different from the Lusitanian language.

A peculiarity that will have to be investigated is the presence of an excessively wide border corridor, where the names of the southern Astures (Augustales) do not predominate, but neither those of the northern Astures (Transmontanos). Similarly, we will have to see the scope of the hypothesis that there might have been a language perhaps differentiated from that spoken in the Lusitanian, Galician or Celtiberian zones; the lower documentary richness of the Asturian zone of Transmontana makes it more difficult to guarantee that it is not the same linguistic area as the one we isolate among Asturian cities.

In any case, de Hoz, even taking into account the difficulty of an affirmation of this type, pointed out ambiguously that we could find ourselves in front of different languages. On the other hand, the absence of texts directly transmitted by this people leaves us without a definitive confirmation the argument that it is a linguistically differentiated region, but it does not invalidate it at all. These drawbacks require the suspension of the exact characterization of our area, awaiting advances in the field of epigraphy and methodology.



The following are mainly excerpts from Villar (2007, 2014):

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



The information provided by place-names and hydronyms on the one hand and anthroponyms on the other is of undoubted historical value in both cases, but of different specific significance. Anthroponyms reflect the present situation at the moment when living people were using them. It is an aspect very sensitive to social changes of all kinds, reaching its highest level of instability when there is language change.

(…) the Pre-Roman anthroponymic inventory of the Basque Country and Navarre indicates that prior to the arrival of Romans the language spoken was Indo-European (reflected in the names used) in the territories of Caristii, Varduli and Autrigones, while in Vasconic territory (especially in the current Navarre) most of the speakers chose Iberian names. In the territories of the current Basque Country, only a negligible statistical proportion chose Basque names, whereas in Navarre it was a minority of the population. That’s how things were towards the 3rd century BC.


Cities and rivers are not subject to the ephemeral life cycle of humans. Rivers have very long cycles that go far beyond the life time not only of individuals, but also of languages ​​and cultures. Cities are also generally very stable, although social circumstances occasionally cause one to be abandoned or destroyed, while new ones are created from time to time. That means that the names of rivers and cities are not subject to fashions or frequent change. Nor does a language change imply a renewal of the previous hydronymy and toponymy.

Speakers of the new languages ​​incorporated into a territory learn from the natives the hydronymic and toponymic system, producing what we call the “toponymic transmission”. (…) it requires a prolonged contact between the native population and the new occupants, which can only occur when the indigenous population is not annihilated quickly and radically.

Top Left: Middle Bronze Age cultures in Iberia (in red, likely Indo-European groups; in green, likely non-Indo-European groups). Top Right: Unsupervised ADMIXTURE of ancient DNA samples. See full maps including Y-DNA and mtDNA. Bottom: Bottom: PCA of Bronze Age groups.

The ancient onomastic data of the Basque Country and Navarre can be summarized as follows:

  • Ancient hydronymy, the longest lasting onomastic component, is not Basque, but Indo-European in its entirety.
  • The old toponymy, which follows it in durability, is also Indo-European in its entirety, except Poampaelo (now Pamplona) and Oiarso (now Oyarzun).
  • And in anthroponymy, which reflects the language used at the time when those names were in use, is also massively Indo-European, although there are between 10-15% anthroponyms of Vasconic etymology.

(…) the existing data show that, while in Roman times in Hispania there were only a couple of place-names in the Pyrenean border and a dozen anthroponyms of Vasconic etymology, in Aquitaine there was an abundant antroponymy of that etymology.

Left: Late Bronze Age cultures in Iberia (in red, likely Indo-European groups; in green, likely non-Indo-European groups). Right: Unsupervised ADMIXTURE of ancient DNA samples. See full maps including Y-DNA and mtDNA.

This set of facts is most compatible with a hypothesis that postulated a late infiltration of this type of population from Aquitaine, which at the time of the Roman conquest had only reached to establish a bridgehead, consisting of a small population center in Navarre and Alto Aragón and nothing else, except some isolated individuals in the current provinces of Álava, Vizcaya and Guipúzcoa. The almost complete absence of old place-names of Vasconic etymology would be explained in this way: Vasconic speakers, recently arrived and still in small numbers, would not have had the possibility of altering in depth the toponymic heritage prior to their arrival, which was Indo-European.

The idea of ​​a late Vasconization of a part of those territories, in the High Middle Ages or late Antiquity, is not new. Already in the 1920s M. Gómez Moreno said about the modern Basque provinces, with the district of Estella in Navarra, that “personal nomenclature allows comparisons of definitive value, probative that there lived people of the Cantabrian-Asturian race [who for Gómez Moreno were Indo-European], without the slightest trace of perceptible Basqueness”. For him, the first Indo-European people to penetrate the peninsula would have been Ligurian, which evolved into Cantabrians, Asturians, Venetians, Lusitanians, Tormogi, Vacaeans, Autrigones, Caristii and Varduli.

Top Left: Pre-Roman cultures in Iberia (in red/brown, Indo-European groups; in pink, Greek; in yellow, Phoenician; in green, likely non-Indo-European groups; Tartessian is disputed). Top Right: Unsupervised ADMIXTURE of ancient DNA samples. See full maps including Y-DNA and mtDNA. Bottom: PCA of Iron Age groups.


If, as we said above, Basque speakers began to enter the Iberian Peninsula from the other side of the Pyrenees only from the Roman-Republican era, to intensify their presence in the following centuries we must assume that they were to the north of the Pyrenees already before those dates. And, indeed, the existence of this abundant Vasconic antroponymy shows that in the first centuries of our era – while Vasconic speakers in the Peninsula were very few in number, their population in Aquitaine was abundant.

In a provisional manner we can advance that [Aquitaine’s] hydronyms are also known in other places of Europe and easily compatible with Indo-European etymologies (Argantia, Aturis, Tarnes, Sigmanos); and among the place names there are also many that are compatible with non-Gallic Indo-European etymologies, or not necessarily Gallic (Curianum, Aquitania, Burdigala, Cadurci, Auscii, Eluii, Rutani, Cala- (gorris), Latusates, Cossion, Sicor, Oscidates, Vesuna, etc.).

In addition to those place names that we classify as generically Indo-European, there are not a few Celts (Lugdunum, Mediolanum, Noviomagos, Segodunon, Bituriges, Petrucorii, Pinpedunni), several Latins (Aquae Augustae, Convenae, ad Sextum, Augusta), and even some Celto-Latin hybrids (Augustonemeton, Augustoriton). On the other hand, there are hardly any names, neither serial nor not serial, that have a reasonable possibility of being explained by Vasconic etymology (Anderedon could be one of them).

Consequently, the onomastic question of Aquitaine is not compatible with the possibility that Vasconic is the “primordial element” there, either. On the contrary, it is compatible with the hypothesis that they arrived also late in Aquitaine, when hydro-toponymy was already established. They had to Vasconize all or part of the previous population, that turned to use to a large extent the Vasconic anthroponymy. But the previous toponymy remained and the Vasconization process was probably soon interrupted by Celticization first, and Romanization later.

Aquitani and neighbouring tribes around the Pyrenees, as described by the Romans (ca. 1st c. BC). The Basque language likely expanded south and west of the Pyrenees into Indo-European-speaking territories during the Roman period. The term ‘Vascones’ only became applied to Basque-speaking tribes in medieval times. Map modified from image by Sémhur at Wikipedia.

A prediction in genetics

This is how Francisco Villar and co-authors from the University of Salamanca saw what would happen with the genetic studies of modern Basques in 2007, based on the similarity with neighbouring Iberians and French, and the late intrusion of the language in its current territory:

Unfortunately, linguistics does not have the means to establish the moment of that arrival in terms of absolute chronology. In any case, this hypothesis is not incompatible with some peculiarities in the frequency of certain genes of the Basque-speaking population. Indeed, today we tend to attribute these peculiarities to the joint action of genetic drift and isolation; to which perhaps we could add a bottleneck in the Vasconic founding population that would one day settle in Aquitaine.

Indoeuropeos, iberos, vascos y sus parientes (2014). Buy the ebook online (Or printed version, if available).

Also Villar, in 2014:

In the hypothesis that I propose, future speakers of Basque would have settled initially in Aquitaine, where there would have been an inevitable genetic diffusion with pre-existing [first stage] populations. On the other hand, Basque speakers from Aquitaine would have started to arrive to the Basque Country and Navarre only from Roman times (only a couple of Vasconic toponyms, at least one of them of recent creation; scarce anthroponyms of Vasconic etymology). The part of those populations that mixed with the pre-existing Palaeo-Indo-Europeans (Indo-European names of rivers; general Indo-European toponymy) saw how the uniqueness of their haplogroups, if there was any, was diluted, making it difficult to distinguish from the general [Indo-European] background; being a minority, it could had been even lost as a result of adverse genetic drift.

Olalde et al. (2019) confirmed this hypothesis that modern Basques are quite similar to investigated Iron Age Indo-Europeans from Iberia (such as Celtiberians sampled from the Basque Country):

For the Iron Age, we document a consistent trend of increased ancestry related to Northern and Central European populations with respect to the preceding Bronze Age. The increase was 10 to 19% (95% confidence intervals given here and in the percentages that follow) in 15 individuals along the Mediterranean coast where non-Indo-European Iberian languages were spoken; 11 to 31% in two individuals at the Tartessian site of La Angorrilla in the southwest with uncertain language attribution; and 28 to 43% in three individuals at La Hoya in the north where Indo-European Celtiberian languages were likely spoken. This trend documents gene flow into Iberia during the Late Bronze Age or Early Iron Age, possibly associated with the introduction of the Urnfield tradition.

Modern Basques show therefore, paradoxically, an ancestry similar to recent Iron Age Indo-European invaders (quite likely the ancestors of Celtiberians), which confirms the hypothesis of bottlenecks/founder effects followed by a very recent isolation of its population:

(…) the genetic profile of present-day Basques who speak the only non-Indo-European language in Western Europe [] overlap genetically with Iron Age populations showing substantial levels of Steppe ancestry.

Left: Roman period in Iberia. Right: Unsupervised ADMIXTURE of ancient DNA samples. See full maps including Y-DNA and mtDNA. Notice increase of steppe ancestry in the north, associated with the (Late Bronze Age / Early Iron Age) arrival of Central Europeans.


Regarding the Iberian language, the circumstances of analysis are less favorable. However, we can observe in the ancient toponymy of typically Iberian areas (the Spanish Levant and Catalonia) a considerable proportion of toponymy of Indo-European etymology, often identical to that which F. Villar (2000) has called “Southern-Iberian-Pyrenean”. In fact, its presence in the Levant is nothing else but a continuation from Catalonia to the South along the Mediterranean coast. Here are some examples: Caluba, Sorobis, Uduba, Lesuros, Urce / Urci, Turbula, Arsi / Arse, Asterum, Cartalias, Castellona, ​​Lassira, Lucentum, Saguntum, Trete, Calpe, Lacetani, Onusa, Palantia, Saetabis, Saetabicula, Sarna , Segestica, Sicana, Turia, Turicae, Turis.

Compatible with the Indo-European etymology can also be Blanda, Sebelacum, Sucro, Tader, Sigarra, Mastia, Contestania, Liria, Lauro, Indibilis, Herna, Edeta, Dertosa, Cesetania, Cossetani, Celeret, Bernaba, Biscargis, (…)

Finally, in other place names there are Indo-European components in hybrid toponymic syntagms, such as:

  1. orc- / urc-: Orceiabar, Urcarailur, Urceatin, Urcebas, Urcecere, Urcescer, Urceticer.
  2. Il-: Iltukoite, Iluro (3), Ilurci, Ilorci, Ilurcis, Ilucia, Iliturgi, Ilarcurris, Iluberitani, etc.


Examples like these show that in Catalonia and the Spanish Levant the Iberian language is not the deepest identifiable substrate language, but that it took root there when there was previously an Indo-European language that had created a considerable network of toponyms and hydronyms that we can recognize, and over which Iberians settled as a superstrate. The pre-existence of an Indo-European language in the historically Iberian area is further corroborated by the fact that its ancient hydronyms are all Indo-European, with the exception of a single river that has a name that is supposed to be Iberian: the Iberus (Ebro), of which obviously the country and its inhabitants took their name. No doubt ib- was an appellation for river, so that in the language that created that hydronym the Iber should have simply been “the river”. But we will see in the body of this work that ib- is in various places outside the Iberian Peninsula as an appellation for «river», which will force us to rethink its supposed Iberian affiliation. In fact, the Iberus had another name, Elaisos, whose etymology is compatible with Indo-European. As we know with certainty that after Iberians no other Indo-European peoples came to their territory before the Romans, the Indo-European creators of that hydronymy have had to be there before the Iberians. And its antiquity must be considerable because, as we have already said, the vast majority of its hydronyms (Alebus, Caluba, Lesuros, Palantia, Saetabis, Sigarra, Sucro, Tader, Turia and Uduba, Elaisos) belong to that anonymous Indo-European language that didn’t leave written texts or had historical continuity.

Inscriptions in Iberia ca. 2nd–1st c. BC. Purple squares show Celtiberian inscriptions, blue circles show Iberian inscriptions. Image modified from Hesperia – Banco de datos de lenguas paleohispánicas.

Villar (2014):

Not always that a language is settled in a territory is it able to eradicate the existing ones definitively. Even a political system as unitary and unifying as the Roman was not able to eradicate the Basque language. And nowadays in Latin America, despite the crushing cultural dominance of Spanish, despite the means for the schooling of a modern society, in spite of the media, a multitude of pre-Columbian languages ​​are spoken that coexist with the language of culture, the only one that is written in those countries. In those situations, which can be prolonged for quite a lot of time, there are individuals who only speak the language newly imposed, others who speak only the language that has resisted disappearing, and others who speak both, in a broad framework of bilingualism. My proposal is that something similar to that must have happened in the Iberian territory when the Romans arrived: A language of culture, Iberian, diversified into more or less distant local dialects, coexisted with several previous languages, equally differentiated from the dialectal point of view. This explains the irruption in the Iberian texts of non-Iberian anthroponyms and, above all, the existence there of a Palaeo-Indo-European hydro-toponymy that had remained in use not only because it was transmitted to Iberian speakers, but also because its native users were still present.


European hydrotoponymy (I): Old European substrate and its relative chronology


These first two posts on Old European hydro-toponymy contain excerpts mainly from Indoeuropeos, iberos, vascos y sus parientes, by Francisco Villar, Universidad de Salmanca (2014), but also from materials of Lenguas, genes y culturas en la Prehistoria de Europa y Asia suroccidental, by Villar et al. Universidad de Salamanca (2007). I can’t recommend both books hardly enough for anyone interested in the history of Pre-Roman peoples in Iberia and Western Europe.

NOTE. Both books also contain detailed information on hydrotoponymy of other regions, like Northern Europe, the Aegean and the Middle East, with some information about Asia, apart from (outdated) genetic data, but their main aim is obviously the Prehistory of Iberia and neighbouring regions like France, Italy, or Northern Africa.

Here are only some excerpts (emphasis mine), translated from Spanish (see the original texts here), accompanied by images from both books.

Indoeuropeos, iberos, vascos y sus parientes (2014). Buy the ebook online (Or printed version, if available).

Alteuropäisch and Krahe

The investigation of “Old European” or Alteuropäisch, popularized by Krahe, began precisely with the study of some toponyms and personal names spread all over Europe, previously considered “Ligurian” (by H. d’Arbois de Jubainville and C. Jullian) or “Illyrian” (by J. Pokorny), with which those linguistic groups – in turn badly known – were given an excessive extension, based only on some lexical coincidences.

This is a comment made by the author about Krahe‘s data and his opinions, frequently used against his compiled data, which I find paradoxically applicable to Villar’s data and his tentative assignment of the relative linguistic chronology to an absolute one – including the expansion of a “Mesolithic” Indo-European vs. a “Neolithic” Basque / Iberian vs. a Bronze Age Celtic – when it is now clear that the sequence of events was much later than that:

It is very widespread today a derogatory and globally disqualifying attitude to everything that sounds like Alteuropäisch and Krahe, sometimes without the necessary discrimination between different hypotheses, or even between data and hypothesis. It is not fair that the version of H. Krahe and that of W. P. Schmid be disqualified in a single simplistic judgment as if they were the same thing. But it is a major mistake to reduce the value of the hydro-toponymic data of Europe by the mere fact that Krahe attributed an implausible historical explanation to them. The data are real and still need an adequate explanation within a real historical framework, despite the unfeasibility of Krahe’s explanation.

With that we reach a point that I want to highlight. Among those who are allergic to anything that involves deviating one iota of the Indo-European paradigm as a single event, an attitude gaining momentum considers that hydro-toponymy was introduced in the different regions of Europe and Southeast Asia by the same Indo-European languages ​​that appear historically occupying their territory. H. Krahe had argued strongly against this possibility, so now I will save myself a deeper refutation and I will limit myself to pointing out some difficulties that position is forced to face.

Sala, Sala, Sala, Sala, Sala, Sala, Sala, Sala, Sala, Sala, Sala, Salaca/Salis, Salaceni,
Salacia, Salacia, Salaeni, Salam, Salandona, Salangi, Salangi , Salaniana, Sãlantas,
Salapa, Salapeni, Salaphitanum, Salapia / Salpia / Salapina palus / Salpe, Salar, Salara, Salarama,
Salarbima, Salariga, Salars, Salas, Salat, Salauris, Salcitani, Sale, Sale, Sale, Sale
stagnum, Salecon, Saleia, Salentina, Salentini, Salernum, Salerni, Sales, Sali, Salia, Salia,
Salica, Salica, Salice, Salii, Salija, Salinẽlis, Salìnis, Salìnis, Salìnis, Salìnis, Salinsae, Salionca,
Salius, Salō, Salō, Saloca, Salodurum, Salona, Salonae, Salonenica, Salonia, Saloniana,
Salonime, Salonium, Salontia, Saluca, Salum, Salum, Salunatasi, Saluntum / Salluntum,
Salùpis, Sãlupis, Salur, Salurnis, Selepitani, Sõlis.

The defenders of that alternative have to assume that the process of dialectalization, that before the migrations from the Urheimat was separating into the different Indo-European branches, affected each of them in the phonetic aspect in the general naming vocabulary, but left them unaltered in its phonetic predialectal state with regards to hydro-toponymy, as well as a good part of the naming lexicon related to the concepts of “river, water” and the different qualities of water currents. For example, according to those sharing that opinion, the Hispanic Palantia of the area of Vaccei would be in fact Celtic, but in that name the loss of the initial /p/ that characterizes Celtic would not have been applicable. Similarly, the hydro-toponymy in Germania is largely exempt from the Lautverschiebung, in Greece the loss of initial /s/, etc. These names not only fail to suffer the dialectal innovations corresponding to their zones, but sometimes they present innovations different from the features of the dialect involved. For example the word *mori “sea, standing water” is sometimes found in the hydro-toponymy of Gaul in the form *mari instead of *mori proper of Celtic (Marantium, Marisanga, Marsus), which in the framework of the paradigm has to be inevitably interpreted as a non-Celtic innovation.

Potential geographic relationship between a priori unrelated graphic-phonetic variants.

Names of this nature that appear in areas where a pre-Roman historical Indo-European language never existed remain unexplained, such as in North Africa, Arabia Felix or the Caucasus: Lake Pallantias in Libya; the Salat River in Mauritania Tingitana; Auso in Mauritania Caesariensis; the Alonta River in Georgia; the Abas River in Caucasian Albania; Salma and Salapeni in Arabia Felix; etc. Of course, for these cases it is always possible to deny any relationship of kinship between these forms and their European cognates, and attribute everything to the chance of random homophonies. Thus, once again, the annoying comparative data are sacrificed in the sacred altar of the paradigm, despite the fact that they are so numerous and consistent that if there were no blind faith in the current dogma, they would be sufficient to articulate a new paradigm over them.

The choice of each Indo-Europeanist between the non-Indo-European and the Indo-European interpretation to explain the prehistoric toponymy of Europe is not motivated by the fact that they manage partial sets of hydronyms that are more propitious alternatively for the one or the other option. On the contrary, frequently the same batch of materials is claimed by both trends as its own. An extreme example is that of Th. Vennemann, who considers simply as non-Indo-European (specifically Paleo-Basque) exactly the same material that H. Krahe used to support his Indo-European interpretation. Thus, the structure and linguistic characteristics of the studied material have little role in the choice of one or the other path, which is rather conditioned by convictions and adhesion to a varied range of personal beliefs, traditional dogmas and scientific paradigms.

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

The linguistic column

The sequence of languages ​​that were successively spoken in any territory constitutes what by analogy [with the “geological column”] we could call its “ethno-linguistic column”.

Next I offer the list of the languages ​​detected in the compositional (and to a lesser extent derivational) toponymic syntagms in which the appellatives ub-, up-, ab-, ap-, ur-, il-, igi, tuk, -ip – analyzed in this work – are involved.

From the interaction of the different strata in words and hybrid syntagms we can, therefore, establish the linguistic column in the Iberian Peninsula and its neighboring territories (Western Europe and Northern Africa) with the following sequence:

1. A first stratum of very old chronology, which in a previous publication I have proposed to call Palaeo-Indo-European [“arqueo-indoeuropeo”]. The toponymic elements belonging to this stratum dealt with throughout this text are abundant: kerso-, turso-, alawo-, lako-, mido-, silo-, tibo-, etc.

They always function as determinant toponyms of a place-name in any other language. It never uses the name “city” (or “river”) in hybrid syntagms. Their place names (determinants) are combined with names of the following languages:

   a) Iberian in Iberia or Southern France: kiŕś-iltiŕ, tuŕś-iltiŕ, alaun-iltiŕte, lakunm ∙ -iltiŕte.

   b) The language of the igi in southern Iberia and perhaps Northern Africa: Cantigi, Saltigi, Sagigi, Sicingi.

   c) The southern language of the postponed -il: Mid-ili, Sil-ili, Tib-ili.

   d) The language of the postponed -ip: Lac-ipo, Ost-ipo, Vent-ipo.

   e) Celtic in Gaul: kerso-ialos > Cersolius > Cerseuil; Ibili-duros > Ibliodurus.

Cariensi, Carantium, Carandonis, Carae, Caraca / Caracca, Carrinensis, Cariaca, Carneus, Carula, Carlae, Carieco, Cariocieco, Caricillum, Carona, Carnona, Caranta, Carantonus / Carantana, Caronte, Carantomum / Carantomium, Carronenses / Garronenses, Cares / Carus, Caranusca, Carona, Caro vicus, Carninia, Carus, Carnutes, Carnonis castrum, Carenses, Caralis / Carallis, Carni, Carnicum, Caraceni, Careia, Carici, Carant / Carrant, Carnonacae, Carontō, Cariolum, Caritani, Carinum, Carantani, Carnuntum, Cariniana Vallis, Cariones, Careotae, Caroia, Caria, Careum, Carnae, Caran, Carnasium, Carnus, Carneates, Carnium, Carenus, Karlasuwa, Carnias, Karahna, Karna, Cariuntis, Kariuna, Careotis, Karu, Caralitis, Carus, Carnasso, Cares, Carene, Caranum, Caria, Carina, Carura, Caralis, Coralis, Carana, Carnalis, Carinum, Carnus, Carium, Carnium, Carnus Carnuntus / Carnusii, Chariuntas, Carandra, Carna, Carana, Carine, Cariatae, Caralae, Carura, Carei, Carura, Caricum, Caranis, Caralia, Carustum, Carystus, Carastasei.

This first Palaeo-Indo-European layer also corresponds to:

Several Palaeo-Indo-European varieties that have ab-, ap-, ub-, up- as a name for «river». To them belong also numerous place names (balsa-, siko-, wol-, etc.) that act as first members composed in both monoglotic and hybrid syntagmas.

Palaeo-Indo-European varieties in which ur- is the name “river”.


2. The second stratum in decreasing order of antiquity is formed by the language of the place name igi “city”, although its presence is only verified with certainty in Iberia (especially in the south) and Northern Africa:

   a) It sets the igi name in compounds with Palaeo-Indo-European toponyms as in Salt-, Ast-, Olont-, Cant-, Aur- (Hispania) and Sagigi, Sicingi (Northern Africa).

   b) It works as the first place-name of the compound when the second is il: Igilium, Igilgili, Singili.

3. The third stratum is the language of the name il “city”:

   a) It puts the nickname il as determined in hybrid syntagms with Palaeo-Indo-European determinants: Mid-ili, Sil-ili, Tib-ili.

   b) It puts the nickname il as determined in hybrid syntagms with determinant toponyms igi: Igilium, Igilgili, Singili.

   c) It puts the place names (determinants) in front of the name (determined) of the language -ip (Il-ipa, Il-ipula and Il-ipla).


4. Fourth is the language of the name ip- “city”, which puts the name (determined) in syntagms with:

   a) Palaeo-Indo-European toponym (determinant): Lac-ipo, Ost-ipo, Vent-ipo.

   b) Toponym (determinant) il: Ilipa.

   c) Second generation hybrid toponym of Palaeo-Indo-European + il: Balsilippa.

   d) In the Balsilippa and Sicilippa conglomerates, the three strata appear in the expected sequence: Palaeo-Indo-European + il + ip.


5. In the fifth place of the sequence is the language of the tuk-:

   a) It puts the name tuk- in compounds in which the place-name is a Palaeo-Indo-European element: Acatucci (see Aduatuci in Germania).

   b) It puts the name tuk- “height, top” in compounds in which the place-name is an ip- fossilized as place-names: Iptuci, etc.

   c) On at least one occasion an ip-fossilized syntagm acts as a toponym opposite a Celtic name: Itucodon (<Iptuco-dunum).

NOTE. Even though Villar talks about this stratum -tuk in Germania (Aduatukus) and the British Isles (Itucodon), only one case is found in each territory.


6. The last place is occupied by Celtic:

   a) In Itucodon it puts the name (dunum) in front of a complex toponym of two previous strata, ip- + tuk-; and in Iliodurus it gives the name duro- in front of an equally complex Ibliodurus (<Ibili + duro).

   b) In bilbiliz it puts the casual morpheme in a fossilized bi-member toponym of a previous stratum, one of whose components is il-: Bilbil-iz.

[First column modified to include relative instead of absolute chronology]

A hard change of paradigm

More effort did it cost me to accept that ub- is a dialectal variant of a known Indo-European word for “water, river”, of which previously knew three others: ap-, ab-, up-. The obviousness of the phonetic correlation ap- / ab- // up- / ub- together with the semantic link with rivers, which can be verified above all outside of Spain, but is also present in our Peninsula, forced my resistance little by little. And with it fell the first trench of the dogma, unshakable until that moment, that everything in the Peninsula in the south was to be non-Indo-European.


Along with this serial component, many other isolated place names were revealed as very likely of Indo-European etymology, both in the “Iberian” East and in the “Tartessian” South. So the ubiquity of Indo-European throughout the Peninsula began to impose itself to me painfully. I say painfully because I lacked a paradigm in which to fit the new perspective that was making its way into my mind, which was therefore suspended in nothing, without any theoretical support, leaving me with a feeling that I was losing my footing. And for a time I was reluctant to accept the profound implications that all of this had entailed.

All il languages, in any of their locations, exhibit a compositional behavior in hybrid toponymic syntagms that place them all in an intermediate position between the clearly [first/second layer] strata, with place-names for their human settlements semantically derived from water realities (ur), and those clearly attributable to the [fifth layer] with appellations derived from settlements in heights (briga, dunum). But in that intermediate segment of the column there are three strata: 1) il, 2) ip-, 3) tuk-. In Andalusia there is an additional one: the igi stratum, of opaque semantics, which immediately precedes the il stratum.

Hydronyms in -or-, -ur-.

To postulate that any of the toponymic strata of our column imply a new linguistic stratum, certain additional requirements will be necessary. One of them is that, in addition to the name in question, the languages ​​involved should share other features that could not have been lent, such as the very precise order of elements in the compounds Toponym + Name coexisting with Name + Adjective. Or the sharing of additional lexical elements that are not usually subject to loans, such as the semantically basic adjectives beri «new» and bels «black».

Unfortunately, the toponymic method, like the Comparative Method itself, does not have the capacity to establish precise absolute chronologies. (…)

Linguistic chronology

Old European hydrotoponymy. Baltic data compensated. Statistical method Kriging.

In Europe (Hispania, South of France, Germania, British Isles, Baltic) the oldest stratum that can be identified is an indeterminable number of palaeo-varieties of the Indo-European macro-family, which do not have a direct local relationship with historical Indo-European languages, to the extent that we can verify. In fact, we have seen that stratigraphic signs lead us to consider the main Indo-European pre-Roman language of Hispania, the Celtic language, as a stratum after the il language, which in turn is later than the peninsular Indo-European palaeo-varieties.

In North Africa there is also a Palaeo-Indo-European stratum present. But there is also a very old non-Indo-European stratum whose identity I can not define through the material used. Nor has it been possible for me to establish relative antiquity of one and the other on African soil.

Another of the languages ​​involved, which has il- as an appellation for “city” in the Southwest of Hispania and North Africa, could have some kind of kinship relationship with Basque on the one hand and the Iberian language on the other, but the same indirect form that I have just pointed out for the Indo-European palaeo-varieties with respect to the historical Indo-European languages. Or in other words: the language(s) of the place-names referred to in this work would be palaeo-varieties of a linguistic family to which two known historical languages, Iberian and Basque, may have belonged, although we can’t establish a relation of direct affiliation neither between those two historical languages ​​among themselves, nor between any of them and the palaeo-varieties of the prehistoric toponymy.

[First column modified to include relative instead of absolute chronology]

In general, Celtic does not have in its historical territories the onomastic behavior of an ancestral language, but that of an intrusive language, whose presence there is not only more recent than other Indo-European varieties, but also after that of various non-Indo-European strata, which are themselves ranked between the oldest detected (Palaeo-Indo-European) and the last of Pre-Romans, which is Celtic itself. If we only detected two strata, the Indo-European and the Celtic ones, we could discuss if it is possible that both are one and the same, so that what we define as “Celtic” is nothing other than the modern in situ evolution of Palaeo-Indo-European. But examples like those of kiŕśiltiŕ, kerso-ialos, Cirsa or Itucodon, among many others analyzed throughout this book, make it unlikely. And, in addition, the mediation of several strata in the column between the Palaeo-Indo-European language of Cirsa, as well as the greater antiquity of the ip- and tuk- languages ​​in Spanish, Gallic and British territory, defines the latter as a new and more recent layer than the aforementioned, which burst into its historical sites during the Iron Age.

Because Archaeology continues to deny the existence of population movements of a size worthy of consideration in the Iron Age, it is necessary to accept that the Indo-European Problem remains intact. It is understandable that before this aporia, many minds who are uncomfortable living with doubts, prefer to adopt a creed (the traditional, the Neolithic or the continuist) and expose it as a certainty to their students in the classrooms or their colleagues in conferences and publications. It’s not my case. For me, with Voltaire, “le doute est désagréable, mais la certitude est ridicule”. Or with Manzoni: “E men male l’agitarsi nel dubbio, che riposar nell’errore”.

Continue reading on European hydrotoponymy (II): Basques, Iberians, and Etruscans after Old Europeans.


Bronze Age cultures in the Tarim Basin and the elusive Proto-Tocharians


Master’s thesis Shifting Memories: Burial Practices and Cultural Interaction in Bronze Age China: A study of the Xiaohe-Gumugou cemeteries in the Tarim Basin, by Yunyun Yang, Uppsala University, Department of Archaeology and Ancient History (2019).

Summary excerpts, mainly from the conclusions (emphasis mine):

Both the Xiaohe and the Gumugou groups are suggested as possibly originating from southern Siberia or Central Asia and being related to Afanasievo and Andronovo people (Han 1986, 1994; Li et al. 2010, 2015). But a latest research suggest that the Xiaohe males are genetic distinct from the Afanasievo males, considering the paternal lineages (Hollard et al. 2018). From genetic evidence, it is suggested that southern Siberia and Central Asia were dominated by Europeans during the Bronze Age. Southern Siberia was predominant by Europeans since the Bronze Age as a result of eastward migration of Kurgan people (Keyser et al. 2009). Central Asia started to have an eastern Eurasian maternal lineage that coexisted with the previous western maternal lineage from around 700 BCE (Lalueza-Fox et al. 2004). Based on the research mentioned above, we can conclude as that the Xiaohe and the Gumugou people possibly came from the southern Siberia or Central Asia.

Origin of the Xiaohe horizon

There are two hypotheses about the origins of the Xiaohe horizon. The “steppe hypothesis” assumes that the early settlers (Gumugou people) of the Tarim Basin came from the Afanasievo culture in the Minusinsk Basin-Altai Mountains regions (Kuz’mina et al. 2008; Mallory et al. 2008). The “oasis hypothesis” argues that the early settlers were related to the spreading of the oasis-based agricultural groups from the Bactria and Margiana parts of the southern Central Asia area (Chen et al. 1995). Both hypotheses mainly relied on the use of some materials such as animal cattle, sheep/goats, camel hair, and plant wheat, whose origins were bound to western traditions. But these proofs cannot provide enough support to claim that the Xiaohe horizon cultures were from Afanasievo or BMAC cultures, except for telling there were possible cultural connections or interactions among them. What’s more, there were no horses or potteries in the Xiaohe horizon.

It is worth noting that Ephedra plant is commonly thought as a strong candidate of the Soma or Haoma sacred drink for the ancient Indians or Iranians. Soma is the name recorded in the Vedic Brahmanism religious literature Rigveda, Haoma in the Zoroastrianism Avesta, and indicates as a ritual drink from plant juice. The reason to address Ephedra plant to Soma-Haoma drink is mainly because of its ephedrine, which works on muscle strength, low blood pressure, (and asthma) to make people get rid of tiredness (Houben 2013). Furthermore, it is thought that Ephedra with anti-fatigue function gives gods or the dead immortality, longevity, and resurrection (Mahdihassan 1987). From a mobile consideration of Vedic Aryans perspective, it is thought Vedic Aryans made use of Ephedra, cannabis and poppy to produce Soma drink in Margiana, only Ephedra in Bactria and in Indian mountains area, but other substitutes in Indian plains (Shah 2014). From the Ephedra perspective, it is agreeable that the Xiaohe-Gumugou people were related to the Indo-Aryan peoples (Mallory et al. 1997; Wang 2017).

The distribution map of the sites in the Xiaohe cultural horizon.

Burial customs

Both the Xiaohe and the Gumugou groups maintained similar burial customs, but we can distinguish a developing process from the slight diverse ways of the Gumugou cemetery to the highly consistent and advanced technology in making coffins of the Xiaohe cemetery. In terms of the dressing, the dead wore a felt cap, a pair of leather boots, a bracelet twined on the right wrist, and was wrapped in a big felt mantle. The dead in the Xiaohe cemetery also wore a loin-cloth. Commonly, both cemeteries contained burials goods of Ephedra twigs, grains of wheat and millet, grass-made baskets, animal ears (such as calf ears), and livestock. Wooden coffins in the two cemeteries were constructed in a similar way, by assembling two side-planks, two end-boards, a lid consisting of a few short straight boards, and covered with livestock hide (mainly cattle hide in the Xiaohe cemetery and sheep/goats hide in the Gumugou cemetery).

Considering the similar and continuous burial behaviours in the two cemeteries, it can be assumed that both the Xiaohe and the Gumugou societies were stable and consistent. The Xiaohe cemetery had both the special clay-lid wooden coffins and the normal coffins in its early phase (burial layers 4th-5th), then turned to be stable and consistent with the normal coffins (burial layers 1st-3rd), and have developed better construction of the boat-shape coffins. The Gumugou cemetery contained two main burial patterns, type I; the sun-radiating-spokes burials and type II; the normal burials, which coexisted during the same time. Burials of type II were similar but not limited to strict rules. Burials in both the Xiaohe and the Gumugou cemetery were fairly heterogeneous, and the clay-lid wooden coffins in the Xiaohe cemetery and the sun-radiating-spokes burials in the Gumugou cemetery only took up in a small percentage of each cemetery. These special burial types could indicate special roles of the dead in their related societies. Either the dead had high social positions or possibly they actually had a different ancestry origin. It is argued here that the latter is something that is quite possible, considering the mixed populations in the two cemeteries.

The sun-radiating-spokes burials share some features with a similar type of grave, constructed of circular stone kerbs of the stone-pit graves. The sun-radiating-spokes burials might represent an adaption to the local desert environment, which had better access to wood rather than stones. Circular stone kerbs with stone-pit in centre were widely seen in Bronze Age Afanasievo and Andronovo burials, and also in the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age burials along the Tian Shan. The present study suggests a high possibility that the six males buried in the sun-radiating-spokes graves came from the contemporary parallel Andronovo horizon, and kept some of their own ancestry memories in an adapted way.

An assumption of the spreading/expansion routes stone burial construct.


Although the Xiaohe and Gumugou societies were stable and consistent, it does not mean that the societies were isolated, and we can see strong indications of them being open to the outside. With time, the Xiaohe population were getting even more diverse origins, as newcomers kept joining the group from outside. However, the burial behaviours in the Xiaohe cemetery did not change as a consequence if these additions. This suggests that the newcomers inherited the local burial customs, and strongly indicates that they became part of the community and adopted the new social identity, possibly through marriage. As a result, the diverse populations can well explain the coexistence of different cultural elements in the burials, e.g. cattle, sheep/goats, camel hair (from Central Asia), grains of wheat (from the west) and millet (from the east), etc.

The Xiaohe and the Gumugou societies were similar, but the Xiaohe society developed to a more advanced level both in economy and in social structure. First, the oasis-based economic system of the Xiaohe and the Gumugou had similar husbandry, but later this was developed to different extent. Both societies mainly relied on livestock, and while the Xiaohe people favoured cattle, the Gumugou people favoured sheep/goats. The two societies also developed agriculture, which can be seen from the grains of wheat and millet. It has been shown that grains of wheat are bread wheat. The Xiaohe people also cooked porridge with millet and milk, and had dairy products.

From these evidences, we can assume that the Xiaohe people have developed a stronger economic level. Secondly, the Xiaohe society had more distinguished gender roles, resulting in different social roles for men and women in terms of work and religions. The female and male dead were buried in a distinguished way with loin-cloths and wooden monuments. Sexual identity on a social level refers to how people consider and expect different genders to act and behave under the social and cultural framework. In the Xiaohe society, men carried out hunting tasks (creatures like vultures, badgers, lizards, snakes); women were associated to the rebirth of lives. To synthesize, a possible relation between the Xiaohe and the Gumugou societies is that they represent two parallel groups who shared similar economic systems because of the similar environment, or that there is a chronological difference where the Gumugou people may have existed earlier. The absolute dating information from the two cemeteries is insufficient to rule out the second situation.

The area division of the Tarim Basin and its surroundings (The division is made based on the mountain ranges including Altai Mountains, Tian Shan, and Kunlun Mountains, and also the distribution of ancient cemeteries in the whole Xinjiang generally.)


To place the Xiaohe horizon in the larger context of the Bronze Age burials in its surroundings, the hypothesis presented in this study is that the Xiaohe-Gumugou people might possibly represent a parallel to the Andronovo groups, with an eastward migration, that developed their own societies and ethnicities in the Tarim Basin with some ancestral memories still preserved. Considering the location and the geographical features of Xinjiang, the Altai Mountains and the Tian Shan left open access from the Eurasian Steppe to the Dzungarian Basin. The Hami Basin-the Balikun Grassland was the first intersection area to combine the possible western and eastern cultural influences. To pass by the Turpan Basin and enter into the Tarim Basin, there were two possible routes, one northern route along the southern edge of Tian Shan, and one southern route along the northern edge of Kunlun Mountains.

In the early Bronze Age, the burials in Xinjiang had some clear typical geographic features that distinguish them from their surroundings. But from the late Bronze Age to the early Iron Age, the tradition with circular kerbs of stones with stone-pits burials expanded along the southern edge of the Tian Shan, which was a major shift of burial practice that possibly could be linked to the expansion of the Andronovo horizon or a general nomadic expansion.

Although there were no horses or wagons found in the Xiaohe burials, the wooden horse-hoof objects were an indication of horses, which did not exist in their daily lives anymore, but possibly were related to some settlers’ ancestral memories of their nomadic origins. However, it was more important for them to assimilate to the common social identities of their new group. After people died, it was preferred to be buried in the communal cemetery. Even if the dead bodies were lost, wooden substitutes will be used in graves to represent the dead, since they believed in afterlife and thought that the end of the death is rebirth.


While the results of Li et al. (2010, 2015) of Xiaohe mummies regarding Y-chromosome haplogroups – showing mostly R1a(xZ93) – and radiocarbon dates of the samples are yet to be confirmed, Proto-Tocharians are known to have had contacts with Samoyeds, early Indo-Iranians (in turn in contact with the BMAC language), then into Common Tocharian with ancient Iranians, and then Indo-Aryan and Iranian languages again (for more on this, see Ged Carling‘s publications).

The connection of the Tocharian branch with Afanasevo is essentially indisputable today, like that of Late Proto-Indo-European with late Repin/early Yamna, even more so than it was just 10 years ago, thanks to the most recent genetic investigation. The common genetic stock of Yamna and Afanasevo – as well as that of East Bell Beakers and Palaeo-Balkan peoples – fits perfectly earlier predictions based on the linguistic estimates of the separation and evolution of the diverse language communities, and the tentative attribution to Eurasian steppe-related cultures.

Tentative identification of language groups among Early Bronze Age cultures. Pre-/Proto-Tocharian is traditionally associated with Chemurchek. See full image.

The trail leading from Afanasevo to Common Tocharians, on the other hand, seems to be more tricky, not unlike many other Indo-European-speaking groups from Europe and Asia, whose precise evolution until their historical attestation is often unclear. Nevertheless, the eventual presence of diverse haplogroups among historical Tocharians – whether they coincide with ancient DNA recovered from BMAC, South India, Andronovo, or Bronze Age Tian Shan populations – will only be relevant to understand the genetic evolution of the speakers of Tocharian during its different stages.

If the genetic trail backwards from known Tocharians to (earlier) unknown Common Tocharians, and forwards from known Pre-Tocharians to (later) unknown Proto-Tocharians leads unequivocally to these populations from the Xiaohe cultural horizon, this paper shows one of the mechanisms through which peoples of the Andronovo cultural horizon (or, more precisely, male lines derived from it) may have become integrated into a Tocharian-speaking population, not dissimilar to what happened in the steppes between Uralic-speaking Abashevo and Pre-Proto-Indo-Iranian-speaking Catacomb-Poltavka to form the Proto-Indo-Iranian-speaking Sintashta-Potapovka-Filatovka culture.

As we have discussed in this blog many times over, to solve this ethnolinguistic identification of prehistoric cultures one needs to investigate ancient DNA in combination with linguistic guesstimates and the Indo-European homeland problem from a wide anthropological perspective. People not understanding this simple concept are bound to end up in some comical Tocharo-Indo-Iranian grouping related to Corded Ware ancestry from Andronovo, similar to the Celto-Ibero-Basques of elevated CEU BA ancestry and hg. R1b-P312 to the south of the Pyrenees during the Iron Age from Olalde et al. (2019), and to the Balto-Finno-Slavs of hg. R1a-Z283 and elevated “Steppe ancestry” in the BA-IA East Baltic from Saag et al. (2019)