Updated phylogenetic tree of haplogroup Q-M242 points to Palaeolithic expansions


New paper (behind paywall) Paternal origin of Paleo-Indians in Siberia: insights from Y-chromosome sequences by Wei et al., Eur. J. Hum. Genet. (2018)

Interesting excerpts (for Eurasian migrations):

Differentiation and diffusion in Palaeolithic Siberia

Based on the phylogenetic analyses and the current distributions of relative sub-lineages, we propose that the prehistoric population differentiation in Siberia after the LGM (post-LGM) provided the genetic basis for the emergence of the Paleo-Indian, American aborigine, population. According to the phylogenetic tree of Y-chromosome haplogroup C2-M217 (Fig. 2 and Figure S1), eight sub-lineages emerged in a short period between 15.3 kya and 14.3 kya (Table S5). Within these sub-lineages, haplogroups C2-M48, C2-F1918, and C2- F1756 are predominant paternal lineages in modern Altaic-speaking populations [46, 51, 52]. Samples of haplogroups C2-F8535 and C2-P53.1 were found in two Turkic- and Mongolic-speaking minorities in China (Table S1). Both archeological and genetic data suggest that Altaic-speaking populations are results of population expansion in the past several thousand years in the Altai Mountain, Mongolia Plateau, and Amur River region [51–54].

By contrast, three other sub-lineages, C2-B79, C2-B77, and C2-P39, appear only in Koryaks and Native Americans [16, 35]. The latitude of the Altai Mountain, the Mongolia Plateau, and Amur River region are much lower than that of Beringia, where the ancestors of Native Americans finally separated from their close relatives in Siberia. Therefore, the phylogeographic patterns of sub-lineages of C2-M217 in this study reveal a major splitting event between populations in a lower latitude region of Siberia and ancestors of Koryaks and Native Americans during the post-LGM period.

The sub-lineages of the Y-chromosome Q-M242 haplogroup were found in populations throughout the Eurasia continent. According to available data, the Q1-L804 lineage is exclusively found in Northwest Europe, while Q1-M120 is primarily restricted to East Asia [48]. Additionally, the lineage Q1-L330 is the predominant paternal lineage in Altai, Tuva, and Kets in South Siberia [34–36, 55]. A number of Q1-M242 samples have also been found in ancient remains from South Siberia and adjacent regions [56, 57]. Other sub-lineages of Q-M242 are scattered widely in different geographic regions of Eurasia, including Q1-L275, Q1-M25, and Q1-Y2659 [14, 35, 37, 58]. Additionally, the Y-chromosome of a 6000–5100 BCE sample (I4550) from Zvejnieki, Latvia has been identified as Q1-L56 [59]. These findings suggest that the sub-lineages of Q-M242 started to diffuse throughout Eurasia in a very ancient period.

Founding paternal lineages of American aborigines and their most closely related lineages among Eurasia populations

Emergence of Paleo-Indian populations

The revised phylogenetic tree of Y-chromosome haplogroup Q-M242 in this study provides clues regarding the origin of Native American lineages Q1-M3 and Q1-Z780 (Fig. 3). According to our estimates, haplogroup Q1-L54 expanded rapidly between 17.2 kya and 15.0 kya and finally gave rise to two major founding paternal lineages of Native American populations, known as Q1-Z780 and Q1-M3. Ancient DNA studies indicate that the early population in South Siberia, represented by MA1 genomes, had a genetic influence on both modern western European and Native American populations [7]. Therefore, we conclude that the accumulated diversity of sub-lineages of Q-M242 before 15.3 kya resulted from the in situ differentiation of Q-M242 in Central Eurasia and South Siberia since the Paleolithic Age, and the appearance of the Paleo-Indian population is part of the great human diffusion throughout the Eurasia after the Last Glacial Maximum.

The Southern Caucasus PIE homeland

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

The origin of Q-M242 in Zvejnieki, like those of Lola (Q1a2-M25) and Steppe Maykop (Q1a2-M25) from Wang et al. (2018) are therefore most likely migrations throughout North Eurasia dated to the Palaeolithic.

As you might remember, the sample of haplogroup Q1a from Khvalynsk was the closest one (in the PCA, see above) to those we now know most likely represent one or more groups of the steppe north of the Caucasus, which were absorbed during the formation and expansion of Khvalynsk.

NOTE. In fact, the position of this early Khvalynsk sample in the PCA is near the Steppe Eneolithic cluster, in turn near ANE (with the Lola sample Q1a2-M25, circle in dark blue/violet above), and Steppe Maykop (which includes the other Q1a2-M25 sample).

It is often assumed that these populations absorbed in the Pontic-Caspian steppe were dominated by haplogroup J, due to the oldest representatives of CHG ancestry (Kotias Klde and Satsurblia).

However, it would not be surprising now to find out that (one or more of) these “CHG/ANE-rich” groups from the steppe (possibly the Kairshak culture in the North Caspian region) were in fact dominated by Q1-M25 subclades.

If this is the case, I don’t know where the proponents of the (south of the) Caucasus homeland will retreat to.


Origins of equine dentistry in Mongolia in the early first millennium BC

New paper (behind paywall) Origins of equine dentistry, by Taylor et al. PNAS (2018).

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

The practice of horse dentistry by contemporary nomadic peoples in Mongolia, coupled with the centrality of horse transport to Mongolian life, both now and in antiquity, raises the possibility that dental care played an important role in the development of nomadic life and domestic horse use in the past. To investigate, we conducted a detailed archaeozoological study of horse remains from tombs and ritual horse inhumations across the Mongolian Steppe, assessing evidence for anthropogenic dental modifications and comparing our findings with broader patterns in horse use and nomadic material culture.

We conducted a detailed study of archaeological horse collections spanning the past 3,200 y, including those from the Late Bronze Age DSK complex (ca. 1200–700 BCE, n = 70), Early Iron Age Slab Burial culture (ca. 700–300 BCE, n = 4), Pazyryk culture (ca. 600–200 BCE, n = 2), Late Iron Age Xiongnu Empire (ca. 200 BCE–200 CE, n = 3), Early Middle Ages post-Xiongnu period (ca. 100–550 CE, n = 3), and Turkic Khaganate (ca. 600–800 CE, n = 3).

A (top): Contemporary Mongolian herder engaged in horseback riding, using left-handed rein position causing asymmetric pressures to the horse’s skull. Photo by Orsoo Bayarsaikhan. B(center) contemporary Mongolian horse skulls, showing asymmetric and skewed thinning to the nasal bones caused by bridle pressure. C(bottom) Asymmetric deformation to the cranial bones of a Deer Stone-Khirigsuur horse (left), alongside an early Middle Ages horse with a similar feature (right). Modified from Taylor and Tuvshinjargal (2018).


This Late Bronze Age dental modification counts among the earliest documented instances of equine veterinary care, and the oldest known evidence for horse dentistry. At first glance, the detailed historical record of early equine veterinary care in places such as China, Greece, Rome, and Syria, which spans the late second millennium BCE through the early centuries CE (11, 15, 16), might imply that equine dentistry emerged in the sedentary civilizations of the Old World. However, the earliest textual references describe only nonsurgical medicinal treatments and make few mentions of oral health (11). Recent archaeological discoveries suggest that human care of domestic animals was practiced by hunter-gatherers as far back as the Paleolithic (46), and that pastoralists may have occasionally practiced surgical procedures on domestic animals as early as the Neolithic in Europe (47). The evidence presented here indicates that horse dentistry was developed by nomadic pastoralists living on the steppes of Mongolia and northeast Asia during the Late Bronze Age, concurrent with the local adoption of the metal bit and many centuries before the first mention of dental practices in historical accounts from sedentary Old World civilizations.

Our results reveal a fundamental link between equine dentistry and the emergence of horsemanship in the steppes of Eurasia. At the turn of the first millennium BCE, militarized, horse-mounted peoples reshaped the social and economic landscape of many areas of the Eurasian continent. Conflagrations with equestrian peoples, such as those between the Persian Empire and the Pontic “Scythians,” plagued alluvial civilizations from the Near East to India and China, while large-scale movements of people linked East and West in never-before-seen ways (48). The archaeological and historical records indicate that the earliest horseback riding was accomplished without stirrups or saddles, and probably using only bitless or organic-mouthpiece bridles (49, 50). The bronze snaffle bit, and the improved control it provided, was a key technological development that enabled the use of horseback riding for more stressful and difficult activities, such as long-distance transportation and warfare (32). We argue that these technological improvements in horse control were preceded and sustained by innovations in veterinary dentistry by nomadic peoples living in the continental interior. By increasing herd survival and mitigating behavioral and health issues caused by horse equipment, innovations in equine dentistry improved the reliability of horseback riding for ancient nomads, enabling horses to be used for nonpastoral activities like warfare, high-speed riding, and distance travel.

Damage to the retained wolf tooth in a 4-5 year old mummified horse, dating to the 2-4th centuries CE from the site of Urd Ulaan-Uneet in western Mongolia


Archaeozoological data from Mongolian horses indicate that the nomadic practice of equine dentistry dates back more than 3,000 y to the DSK complex, a Late Bronze Age culture associated with the first mounted horseback riding and mobile pastoralism in eastern Eurasia. Attempted removal of deciduous incisors through sawing of the exterior suggests experimentation with dental extraction, but not the removal of wolf teeth. The appearance of extracted first premolars in the first millennium BCE coincides with the arrival of metal bits in the archaeological record and oral trauma linked with metal bit use, suggesting that innovations in dental practice were an adaptation to the mechanical changes in horse equipment. These bronze and metal bits provided greater control over the horse, facilitating the development of military uses for the horse, but also introduced new dental problems with the first premolar. Our results indicate that, coincident with the earliest evidence for metal bit use, wolf tooth extraction was practiced in Mongolia by ca. 750 BCE and continued through the early Middle Ages. These results push back the earliest dates for equine dentistry by more than a millennium and suggest that nomadic peoples developed key innovations in veterinary care that enabled more sophisticated horse control, ultimately changing the structure of communication, exchange, and military power in ancient Eurasia.


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


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

Abstract (emphasis mine):

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

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

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

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

Lakes, megalakes, and wetlands

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

Megalake Chad

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

Insights from hydrologic mass balance of megalakes

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

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

Estimates of paleo-rainfall during the AHP

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

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


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

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

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

Palaeolithic migrations

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simple Nostratic tree by Bomhard (2008)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Abstract (emphasis mine):

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

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

Interesting excerpts:

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

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

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

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

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

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


Genetic history of admixture across inner Eurasia; Botai shows R1b-M73


Open access Characterizing the genetic history of admixture across inner Eurasia, by Jeong et al. (2018).

Abstract (emphasis mine):

The indigenous populations of inner Eurasia, a huge geographic region covering the central Eurasian steppe and the northern Eurasian taiga and tundra, harbor tremendous diversity in their genes, cultures and languages. In this study, we report novel genome-wide data for 763 individuals from Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Mongolia, Russia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. We furthermore report genome-wide data of two Eneolithic individuals (~5,400 years before present) associated with the Botai culture in northern Kazakhstan. We find that inner Eurasian populations are structured into three distinct admixture clines stretching between various western and eastern Eurasian ancestries. This genetic separation is well mirrored by geography. The ancient Botai genomes suggest yet another layer of admixture in inner Eurasia that involves Mesolithic hunter-gatherers in Europe, the Upper Paleolithic southern Siberians and East Asians. Admixture modeling of ancient and modern populations suggests an overwriting of this ancient structure in the Altai-Sayan region by migrations of western steppe herders, but partial retaining of this ancient North Eurasian-related cline further to the North. Finally, the genetic structure of Caucasus populations highlights a role of the Caucasus Mountains as a barrier to gene flow and suggests a post-Neolithic gene flow into North Caucasus populations from the steppe.

Interesting excerpts:

On North Eurasians

In a PCA of Eurasian individuals, we find that PC1 separates eastern and western Eurasian populations, PC2 splits eastern Eurasians along a north-south cline, and PC3 captures variation in western Eurasians with Caucasus and northeastern European populations at opposite ends (Figure 2A and Figures S1-S2). Inner Eurasians are scattered across PC1 in between, largely reflecting their geographic locations. Strikingly, inner Eurasian populations seem to be structured into three distinct west-east genetic clines running between different western and eastern Eurasian groups, instead of being evenly spaced in PC space. Individuals from northern Eurasia, speaking Uralic or Yeniseian languages, form a cline connecting northeast Europeans and the Uralic (Samoyedic) speaking Nganasans from northern Siberia (“forest-tundra” cline). Individuals from the Eurasian steppe, mostly speaking Turkic and Mongolic languages, are scattered along two clines below the forest-tundra cline. Both clines run into Turkic- and Mongolic-speaking populations in southern Siberia and Mongolia, and further into Tungusic-speaking populations in Manchuria and the Russian Far East in the East; however, they diverge in the west, oneheading to the Caucasus and the other heading to populations of the Volga-308 Ural area (the “southern steppe” and “steppe-forest” clines, respectively; Figure 2 and Figure S2).
The forest-tundra cline populations derive most of their eastern Eurasian ancestry from a component most enriched in Nganasans, while those on the steppe-forest and southern steppe clines have this component together with another component most enriched in populations from the Russian Far East, such as Ulchi and Nivkh. The southern steppe cline groups are distinct from the others in their western Eurasian ancestry profile, in the sense that they have a high proportion of a component most enriched in Mesolithic Caucasus hunter-gatherers (“CHG”) and Neolithic Iranians (“Iran_N”) and frequently harbor another component enriched in South Asians (Figure S4).

qpAdm-based admixture models for the forest-tundra cline populations. For populations to the east of the Urals (Enets, Selkups, Kets, and Mansi), EHG+Yamnaya+Nganasan provides a good fit, except for Mansi, for which adding WHG significantly increases the model fit. For the rest of the groups, WHG+LBK_EN+Yamnaya+Nganasan in general provides a good fit. 5 cM jackknifing standard errors are marked by the horizontal bar.

For the forest-tundra cline populations, for which currently no relevant Holocene ancient genomes are available, we took a more generalized approach of using proxies for contemporary Europeans: WHG, WSH (represented by “Yamnaya_Samara”), and early Neolithic European farmers (EEF; represented by “LBK_EN”; Table S2). Adding Nganasans as the fourth reference, we find that most Uralic-speaking populations in Europe (i.e. west of the Urals) and Russians are well modeled by this four-way admixture model (χ 2 p ≥ 0.05 for all but three groups; Figure 5 and Table S8). Nganasan-related ancestry substantially contributes to their gene pools and cannot be removed from the model without a significant decrease in model fit (4.7% to 29.1% contribution; χ 2 p ≤ 1.12×10-8; Table S8). The ratio of contributions from three European references varies from group to group, probably reflecting genetic exchange with neighboring non-Uralic groups. For example, Saami from northern Fennoscandia contain a higher WHG and lower WSH contribution (16.1% and 41.3%, respectively) than Udmurts or Besermyans from the Volga river region do (4.9-6.6% and 50.7-53.2%, respectively), while the three groups have similar amounts of Nganasan-related ancestry (25.5-29.1%).

The Caucasus Mountains form a barrier to gene flow

By applying EEMS to the Caucasus region, we identify a strong barrier to gene flow separating North and South Caucasus populations. This genetic barrier coincides with the Greater Caucasus mountain ridge even to small scale: a weaker barrier in the middle, overlapping with Ossetia, matches well with the region where the ridge also becomes narrow. We also observe weak barriers running in the north-south direction that separate northeastern populations from northwestern ones. Together with PCA, EEMS results suggest that the Caucasus Mountains have posed a strong barrier to human migration.

The Greater Caucasus mountain ridge as a barrier to 856 genetic exchange. Barriers (brown) and conduits (green) of gene flow around the Caucasus region are estimated by the EEMS program. Red diamonds show the location of vertices to which groups are assigned. A strong barrier to gene flow overlaps with the Greater Caucasus mountain ridge reflecting the genetic differentiation between populations of the north and south of the Caucasus. The barrier becomes considerably weaker in the middle where present-day Ossetians live.

On the Botai individuals

The Y-chromosome of the male Botai individual (TU45) belongs to the haplogroup R1b (Table 411 S6). However, it falls into neither a predominant European branch R1b-L5165 nor into a R1b-GG400 branch found in Yamnaya individuals. Thus, phylogenetically this Botai individual should belong to the R1b-M73 branch which is frequent in the Eurasian steppe (Figure S9). This branch was also found in Mesolithic samples from Latvia as well as in numerous modern southern Siberian and Central Asian groups.

The Botai genomes provide a critical snapshot of the genetic profile of pre-Bronze Age steppe populations. Our admixture modeling positions Botai primarily on an ancient genetic cline of the pre-Neolithic western Eurasian hunter-gatherers: stretching from the post-Ice Age western European hunter-gatherers (e.g. WHG) to EHG in Karelia and Samara to the Upper Paleolithic southern Siberians (e.g. AG3). Botai’s position on this cline, between EHG and AG3, fits well with their geographic location and suggests that ANE-related ancestry in the East did have a lingering genetic impact on Holocene Siberian and Central Asian populations at least till the time of Botai.
The most recent clear connection with the Botai ancestry can be found in the Middle Bronze Age Okunevo individuals (Figure S6C). In contrast, additional EHG-related ancestry is required to explain the forest-tundra populations to the east of the Urals (Figure 5 and Table S8). Their multi-way mixture model may in fact portrait a prehistoric two-way mixture of a WSH population and a hypothetical eastern Eurasian one that has an ANE-related contribution higher than that in Nganasans. Botai and Okunevo individuals prove the existence of such ANE ancestry-rich populations. Pre-Bronze Age genomes from Siberia will be critical for testing this hypothesis.

The first two PCs summarizing the genetic structure within 2,077 Eurasian individuals. The two PCs generally mirror geography. PC1 separates western and eastern Eurasian populations, with many inner Eurasians in the middle. PC2 separates eastern Eurasians along the north-south cline and also separates Europeans from West Asians. Ancient individuals (color-filled shapes), including two Botai individuals, are projected onto PCs calculated from present-day individuals.

So, to sum up:

  • Northern Eurasia forms a Uralic – Yeniseian cline from east to west, with contribution from Steppe, WHG, and Siberian ancestry. Siberian ancestry is represented by Palaeo-Siberian Nganasans, who adopted Samoyedic quite late. It was already known that the different waves of Siberian ancestry are too late and do not represent the spread of Uralic languages, so that leaves us with Steppe and WHG.
  • The Caucasus Mountains were a long-lasting prehistoric barrier to gene flow (as recently shown in Y-DNA, too).
  • The Botai sample (ca. 3632-3100 BC) represents thus the furthest east that R1b-P297 subclades had expanded (we did know that, and that they didn’t have close genetic links with Khvalynsk, so the haplogroup spread there probably much earlier). It expanded R1b-M269’s sister clade R1b-M73 (also found in the Baltic region), and the Botai are on the ‘eastern’ end of an ancient genetic cline stretching from WHG to EHG to Afontova Gora.

EDIT (23 MAY 2018) Both samples share mtDNA, and the male one shares Y-DNA, with those reported in Damgaard et al. (Nature 2018); although dates are slightly different (3371-3354 calBC for BOT 14), it is within the range given for this one; for the female, the dates are similar (3521-3377 calBC for BOT2016, 3517-3367 cal. BCE for this one). The lack of data on their origin may point to the fact that we only have different bone samples from the same two Botai individuals. So probably still 50% R1b-M73 (with the other 50% being N2* from BOT15)…

It seems therefore not only that R1b-M269 is bound to split from the parent haplogroup in or around the steppe or forest-steppe: the Mesolithic spread of haplogroup R1b in North Eurasia is wider and its relevance thus greater than previously thought.

We may need to rethink the role of haplogroup R1a in spreading EHG and Indo-Uralic from east to west…

Featured image, from the supplementary materials: Frequency distribution map of the Y-chromosomal haplogroup R1b-P343(xM269) identified in the Eneolithic Botai individual. All modern Eurasian samples with this haplogroup tested to date for the downstream markers fall into R1b-M73 branch, suggesting Botai sample be one of its earliest representatives.


Eurasian steppe dominated by Iranian peoples, Indo-Iranian expanded from East Yamna


The expected study of Eurasian samples is out (behind paywall): 137 ancient human genomes from across the Eurasian steppes, by de Barros Damgaard et al. Nature (2018).

Dicussion (emphasis mine):

Our findings fit well with current insights from the historical linguistics of this region (Supplementary Information section 2). The steppes were probably largely Iranian-speaking in the first and second millennia bc. This is supported by the split of the Indo-Iranian linguistic branch into Iranian and Indian33, the distribution of the Iranian languages, and the preservation of Old Iranian loanwords in Tocharian34. The wide distribution of the Turkic languages from Northwest China, Mongolia and Siberia in the east to Turkey and Bulgaria in the west implies large-scale migrations out of the homeland in Mongolia since about 2,000 years ago35. The diversification within the Turkic languages suggests that several waves of migration occurred36 and, on the basis of the effect of local languages, gradual assimilation to local populations had previously been assumed37. The East Asian migration starting with the Xiongnu accords well with the hypothesis that early Turkic was the major language of Xiongnu groups38. Further migrations of East Asians westwards find a good linguistic correlate in the influence of Mongolian on Turkic and Iranian in the last millennium39. As such, the genomic history of the Eurasian steppes is the story of a gradual transition from Bronze Age pastoralists of West Eurasian ancestry towards mounted warriors of increased East Asian ancestry—a process that continued well into historical times.

This paper will need a careful reading – better in combination with Narasimhan et al. (2018), when their tables are corrected – , to assess the actual ‘Iranian’ nature of the peoples studied. Their wide and long-term dominion over the steppe could also potentially explain some early samples from Hajji Firuz with steppe ancestry.

Principal component analyses. The principal components 1 and 2 were plotted for the ancient data analysed with the present-day data (no projection bias) using 502 individuals at 242,406 autosomal SNP positions. Dimension 1 explains 3% of the variance and represents a gradient stretching from Europe to East Asia. Dimension 2 explains 0.6% of the variance, and is a gradient mainly represented by ancient DNA starting from a ‘basal-rich’ cluster of Natufian hunter-gatherers and ending with EHGs. BA, Bronze Age; EMBA, Early-to-Middle Bronze Age; SHG, Scandinavian hunter-gatherers.

For the moment, at first sight, it seems that, in terms of Y-DNA lineages:

  • R1b-Z93 (especially Z2124 subclades) dominate the steppes in the studied periods.
  • R1b-P312 is found in Hallstatt ca. 810 BC, which is compatible with its role in the Celtic expansion.
  • R1b-U106 is found in a West Germanic chieftain in Poprad (Slovakia) ca. 400 AD, during the Migration Period, hence supporting once again the expansion of Germanic tribes especially with R1b-U106 lineages.
  • A new sample of N1c-L392 (L1025) lineage dated ca. 400 AD, now from Lithuania, points again to a quite late expansion of this lineage to the region, believed to have hosted Uralic speakers for more than 2,000 years before this.
  • A sample of haplogroup R1a-Z282 (Z92) dated ca. 1300 AD in the Golden Horde is probably not quite revealing, not even for the East Slavic expansion.
  • Also, interestingly, some R1b(xM269) lineages seem to be associated with Turkic expansions from the eastern steppe dated around 500 AD, which probably points to a wide Eurasian distribution of early R1b subclades in the Mesolithic.

NOTE. I have referenced not just the reported subclades from the paper, but also (and mainly) further Y-SNP calls studied by Open Genomes. See the spreadsheet here.

Interesting also to read in the supplementary materials the following, by Michaël Peyrot (emphasis mine):

1. Early Indo-Europeans on the steppe: Tocharians and Indo-Iranians

The Indo-European language family is spread over Eurasia and comprises such branches and languages as Greek, Latin, Germanic, Celtic, Sanskrit etc. The branches relevant for the Eurasian steppe are Indo-Aryan (= Indian) and Iranian, which together form the Indo-Iranian branch, and the extinct Tocharian branch. All Indo-European languages derive from a postulated protolanguage termed Proto-Indo-European. This language must have been spoken ca 4500–3500 BCE in the steppe of Eastern Europe21. The Tocharian languages were spoken in the Tarim Basin in present-day Northwest China, as shown by manuscripts from ca 500–1000 CE. The Indo-Aryan branch consists of Sanskrit and several languages of the Indian subcontinent, including Hindi. The Iranian branch is spread today from Kurdish in the west, through a.o. Persian and Pashto, to minority languages in western China, but was in the 2nd and 1st millennia BCE widespread also on the Eurasian steppe. Since despite their location Tocharian and Indo-Iranian show no closer relationship within Indo-European, the early Tocharians may have moved east before the Indo-Iranians. They are probably to be identified with the Afanasievo Culture of South Siberia (ca 2900 – 2500 BCE) and have possibly entered the Tarim Basin ca 2000 BCE103.

The Indo-Iranian branch is an extension of the Indo-European Yamnaya Culture (ca 3000–2400 BCE) towards the east. The rise of the Indo-Iranian language, of which no direct records exist, must be connected with the Abashevo / Sintashta Culture (ca 2100 – 1800 BCE) in the southern Urals and the subsequent rise and spread of Andronovo-related Culture (1700 – 1500 BCE). The most important linguistic evidence of the Indo-Iranian phase is formed by borrowings into Finno-Ugric languages104–106. Kuz’mina (2001) identifies the Finno-Ugrians with the Andronoid cultures in the pre-taiga zone east of the Urals107. Since some of the oldest words borrowed into Finno-Ugric are only found in Indo-Aryan, Indo-Aryan and Iranian apparently had already begun to diverge by the time of these contacts, and when both groups moved east, the Iranians followed the Indo-Aryans108. Being pushed by the expanding Iranians, the Indo-Aryans then moved south, one group surfacing in equestrian terminology of the Anatolian Mitanni kingdom, and the main group entering the Indian subcontinent from the northwest.

Summary map. Depictions of the five main migratory events associated with the genomic history of the steppe pastoralists from 3000 bc to the present. a, Depiction of Early Bronze Age migrations related to the expansion of Yamnaya and Afanasievo culture. b, Depiction of Late Bronze Age migrations related to the Sintashta and Andronovo horizons. c, Depiction of Iron Age migrations and sources of admixture. d, Depiction of Hun-period migrations and sources of admixture. e, Depiction of Medieval migrations across the steppes.

2. Andronovo Culture: Early Steppe Iranian

Initially, the Andronovo Culture may have encompassed speakers of Iranian as well as Indo-Aryan, but its large expansion over the Eurasian steppe is most probably to be interpreted as the spread of Iranians. Unfortunately, there is no direct linguistic evidence to prove to what extent the steppe was indeed Iranian speaking in the 2nd millennium BCE. An important piece of indirect evidence is formed by an archaic stratum of Iranian loanwords in Tocharian34,109. Since Tocharian was spoken beyond the eastern end of the steppe, this suggests that speakers of Iranian spread at least that far. In the west of the Tarim Basin the Iranian languages Khotanese and Tumshuqese were spoken. However, the Tocharian B word etswe ‘mule’, borrowed from Iranian *atswa- ‘horse’, cannot derive from these languages, since Khotanese has aśśa- ‘horse’ with śś instead of tsw. The archaic Iranian stratum in Tocharian is therefore rather to be connected with the presence of Andronovo people to the north and possibly to the east of the Tarim Basin from the middle of the 2nd millennium BCE onwards110.

Since Kristiansen and Allentoft sign the paper (and Peyrot is a colleague of Kroonen), it seems that they needed to expressly respond to the growing criticism about their recent Indo-European – Corded Ware Theory. That’s nice.

They are obviously trying to reject the Corded Ware – Uralic links that are on the rise lately among Uralicists, now that Comb Ware is not a suitable candidate for the expansion of the language family.

IECWT-proponents are apparently not prepared to let it go quietly, and instead of challenging the traditional Neolithic Uralic homeland in Eastern Europe with a recent paper on the subject, they selected an older one which partially fit, from Kuz’mina (2001), now shifting the Uralic homeland to the east of the Urals (when Kuz’mina asserts it was south of the Urals).

Different authors comment later in this same paper about East Uralic languages spreading quite late, so even their text is not consistent among collaborating authors.

Also interesting is the need to resort to the questionable argument of early Indo-Aryan loans – which may have evidently been Indo-Iranian instead, since there is no way to prove a difference between both stages in early Uralic borrowings from ca. 4,500-3,500 years ago…

EDIT (10/5/2018) The linguistic supplement of the Science paper deals with different Proto-Indo-Iranian stages in Uralic loans, so on the linguistic side at least this influence is clear to all involved.

A rejection of such proposals of a late, eastern homeland can be found in many recent writings of Finnic scholars; see e.g. my references to Parpola (2017), Kallio (2017), or Nordqvist (2018).

NOTE. I don’t mind repeating it again: Uralic is one possibility (the most likely one) for the substrate language that Corded Ware migrants spread, but it could have been e.g. another Middle PIE dialect, similar to Proto-Anatolian (after the expansion of Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chiefs). I expressly stated this in the Corded Ware substrate hypothesis, since the first edition. What was clear since 2015, and should be clear to anyone now, is that Corded Ware did not spread Late PIE languages to Europe, and that some east CWC groups only spread languages to Asia after admixing with East Yamna. If they did not spread Uralic, then it was a language or group of languages phonetically similar, which has not survived to this day.

Their description of Yamna migrations is already outdated after Olalde et al. & Mathieson et al. (2018), and Narasimhan et al. (2018), so they will need to update their model (yet again) for future papers. As I said before, Anthony seems to be one step behind the current genetic data, and the IECWT seems to be one step behind Anthony in their interpretations.

At least we won’t have the Yamna -> Corded Ware -> BBC nonsense anymore, and they expressly stated that LPIE is to be associated with Yamna, and in particular the “Indo-Iranian branch is an extension of the Indo-European Yamnaya Culture (ca 3000–2400 BCE) to the East” (which will evidently show an East Yamna / Poltavka society of R1b-L23 subclades), so that earlier Eneolithic cultures have to be excluded, and Balto-Slavic identification with East Europe is also out of the way.


Ancient nomadic tribes of the Mongolian steppe dominated by a single paternal lineage

The genome of an ancient Rouran individual reveals an important paternal lineage in the Donghu population, by Li et al. Am J Phys Anthropol (2018), 1–11.

Abstract (emphasis mine):

Following the Xiongnu and Xianbei, the Rouran Khaganate (Rouran) was the third great nomadic tribe on the Mongolian Steppe. However, few human remains from this tribe are available for archaeologists and geneticists to study, as traces of the tombs of these nomadic people have rarely been found. In 2014, the IA‐M1 remains (TL1) at the Khermen Tal site from the Rouran period were found by a Sino‐Mongolian joint archaeological team in Mongolia, providing precious material for research into the genetic imprint of the Rouran.

Materials and methods
The mtDNA hypervariable sequence I (HVS‐I) and Y‐chromosome SNPs were analyzed, and capture of the paternal non‐recombining region of the Y chromosome (NRY) and whole‐genome shotgun sequencing of TL1 were performed. The materials from three sites representing the three ancient nationalities (Donghu, Xianbei, and Shiwei) were selected for comparison with the TL1 individual.

The mitochondrial haplotype of the TL1 individual was D4b1a2a1. The Y‐chromosome haplotype was C2b1a1b/F3830 (ISOGG 2015), which was the same as that of the other two ancient male nomadic samples (ZHS5 and GG3) related to the Xianbei and Shiwei, which were also detected as F3889; this haplotype was reported to be downstream of F3830 by Wei et al. (2017).

We conclude that F3889 downstream of F3830 is an important paternal lineage of the ancient Donghu nomads. The Donghu‐Xianbei branch is expected to have made an important paternal genetic contribution to Rouran. This component of gene flow ultimately entered the gene pool of modern Mongolic‐ and Manchu‐speaking populations.

The ancient males (TL1, ZHS5, and GG3) was grouped under C2b1a1b1/F3880 on the Y-DNA haplogroup C lineage using BEAST


These results suggested that TL1 likely presents a close paternal relationship to the Donghu people and may have even descended from a branch of the ancient Donghu-Xianbei people, based on the conclusion that haplogroup C2b1a/F3918 can be considered the paternal branch of the ancient Donghu people (Zhang et al., 2018). The Y-chromosome phylogenetic tree showed that TL1 shared a branch with modern Mongolian-Buryats, Hezhen, Xibo, Yugur, and Kazakh, suggesting that the TL1 individual from the Rouran period should also generally present close paternal genetic relationships with modern Mongolic- and Manchu-speaking peoples.

In general, the Rouran Khaganate originated from an alliance of the ancient Eurasian steppe nomads, which disintegrated and disappeared with the progress of history. This group was complex, and its origin cannot be explained based only on one individual. However, we can trace the genetic imprint of the Rouran people through genome analysis of the TL1 individual. On the basis of the comparison with other ancient nomadic people (Donghu, Xianbei, and Shiwei) and data on modern individuals from published articles (Lippold et al., 2014; Wei et al., 2017) (Supporting Information S5), we found that they all share the same haplotype implying shared paternal ancestry between the Donghu, Xianbei and Rouran populations. Furthermore, this gene flow (mainly haplogroup C2b1a/F3918) did not stop with the disappearance of the Rouran, and a portion was instead passed on in other groups, such as the ancient Shiwei people (later than Rouran), eventually reaching the gene pool of modern Mongolic- and Manchu-speaking populations (Mongolian-Buryats, Hezhen, Xibo, et al).

Interesting to see now confirmed with ancient DNA the proposal of a C3*-DYS448del cluster as the paternal lineage defining ancient Mongolian tribes, a theory based on ancient and modern samples – since it is found in low frequency in almost all Mongolic- and Turkic-speaking populations.

This is yet another proof of how prehistoric ethnolinguistic expansions are usually accompanied by haplogroup expansion and reduction in variability.

I wonder what other ancient chiefdom-type steppe-based nomadic groups were also dominated by a single paternal lineage


Genetic structure, divergence and admixture of Han Chinese, Japanese and Korean populations


Open access Genetic structure, divergence and admixture of Han Chinese, Japanese and Korean populations, by Wang, Lu, Chung, and Xu, Hereditas (2018) 155:19.

Abstract (emphasis mine):

Han Chinese, Japanese and Korean, the three major ethnic groups of East Asia, share many similarities in appearance, language and culture etc., but their genetic relationships, divergence times and subsequent genetic exchanges have not been well studied.

We conducted a genome-wide study and evaluated the population structure of 182 Han Chinese, 90 Japanese and 100 Korean individuals, together with the data of 630 individuals representing 8 populations wordwide. Our analyses revealed that Han Chinese, Japanese and Korean populations have distinct genetic makeup and can be well distinguished based on either the genome wide data or a panel of ancestry informative markers (AIMs). Their genetic structure corresponds well to their geographical distributions, indicating geographical isolation played a critical role in driving population differentiation in East Asia. The most recent common ancestor of the three populations was dated back to 3000 ~ 3600 years ago. Our analyses also revealed substantial admixture within the three populations which occurred subsequent to initial splits, and distinct gene introgression from surrounding populations, of which northern ancestral component is dominant.

These estimations and findings facilitate to understanding population history and mechanism of human genetic diversity in East Asia, and have implications for both evolutionary and medical studies.

Population level phylogenetic Tree and Principal component analysis (PCA). (A) The maximum likelihood tree was constructed based on pair-wise FST matrix. And the marked number are bootstrap value; (B) The top two PCs of individuals representing six East Asian populations, mapped to their corresponding geographic locations (generated by R 2.15.2 and Microsoft Excel 2010)

Interesting excerpts:

It is obvious that the genetic difference among the three East Asian groups initially resulted from population divergence due to pre-historical or historical migrations. Subsequently, different geographical locations where the three populations are located, mainland of China, Korean Peninsular and Japanese archipelago, respectively, apparently facilitated population differentiation due to physical isolation and independent genetic drift. Our estimations of population divergence time among the three groups, 1.2~ 3.6 KYA, are largely consistent with known history of the three populations and those related. However, considering that recent admixture could have reduced genetic difference between populations, it is likely the divergence time was underestimated.

We detected substantial gene flow among the three populations and also from the surrounding populations. For example, based on our analysis with the F3 test, Korean received gene flow from Han Chinese and Japanese, and gene flow also happened between Han Chinese and Japanese (Additional file 12: Table S3). These gene flows are expected to have reduced the genetic differentiation between the three ethnic groups. On the other hand, we also detected considerable gene flow from surrounding populations to the three populations studied. For instance, an ancestral population represented by Ryukyuan have contributed greater to Japanese than to Han Chinese, while southern ethnic group like Dai have contributed more to continent populations than to island and peninsula populations. Contrary to the gene flow among the three populations, these gene flows from surrounding populations are expected to have increased genetic difference among the three populations if they occurred independently and from different source populations. According to our results, the major source of gene flow to the three ethnic groups were substantially different, for example, the major source of gene flow to Han Chinese was from southern ethnic groups, the major source of gene flow to Japanese was from southern islands, and the major source of gene flow to Korean were from both mainland and islands. Therefore, those gene flows might have significantly contributed to further genetic differentiation of the three populations.

The three populations have similar but not identical demographical history; they all experience a strong population expansion in the last 20,000 years. However, according to different geographic distribution, their effective population size and population expansion are different.

Although based on modern populations, the study is interesting in light of the potential implications for a Macro-Altaic proposal.


Statistical methods fashionable again in Linguistics: Reconstructing Proto-Australian dialects

Reconstructing remote relationships – Proto-Australian noun class prefixation, by Mark Harvey & Robert Mailhammer, Diachronica (2017) 34(4): 470–515


Evaluation of hypotheses on genetic relationships depends on two factors: database size and criteria on correspondence quality. For hypotheses on remote relationships, databases are often small. Therefore, detailed consideration of criteria on correspondence quality is important. Hypotheses on remote relationships commonly involve greater geographical and temporal ranges. Consequently, we propose that there are two factors which are likely to play a greater role in comparing hypotheses of chance, contact and inheritance for remote relationships: (i) spatial distribution of corresponding forms; and (ii) language specific unpredictability in related paradigms. Concentrated spatial distributions disfavour hypotheses of chance, and discontinuous distributions disfavour contact hypotheses, whereas hypotheses of inheritance may accommodate both. Higher levels of language-specific unpredictability favour remote over recent transmission. We consider a remote relationship hypothesis, the Proto-Australian hypothesis. We take noun class prefixation as a test dataset for evaluating this hypothesis against these two criteria, and we show that inheritance is favoured over chance and contact.

I was redirected to this work by my wife – who discovered it reading BBC News – , suspicious of its potential glottochronological content. However, I must say – speaking from my absolute ignorance of the main language family investigated – , that it seemed in general an interesting read, with some thorough discussion and attention to detail.

The statistical analyses, however, seem to disrupt the content, and – in my opinion – do not help support its conclusions.

Map of Non-Pama-Nyungan languages.

Computer Science and Linguistics

We are evidently on alert to tackle dubious research, because of the revival of pseudoscientific methods in linguistic investigation, promoted (yet again) by Nature.

It seems that journals with the highest impact factor, in their search for groundbreaking conclusions supported by any methods involving numbers, are setting a still lower level of standards for academic disciplines.

NOTE. If you think about it – if glottochronology has survived the disgrace it fell into in the 2000s, to come back again now to the top of the publishing industry… How can we expect the “Yamnaya ancestry” concept to be overcome? I guess we will still see certain Eastern Europeans in 2030 arguing for elevated steppe ancestry here and there to support the conclusions of the 2015 papers, no matter what…

I am sure that worse times lie ahead for traditional comparative grammar. For example, it seems that there will be more publications on Proto-Indo-European using novel computer methods: a group led by Janhunen and Pyysalo, from the Department of Languages at the University of Helsinki, promises – under an ever-growing bubble of mistery (or so it seems from their Twitter and Facebook accounts) – a machine-implemented reconstruction (with the generative etymological PIE lexicon project) that will once and for all solve all our previous ‘inconsistencies’…

Spoiler alert for their publications: whether they select to go on mainly with computer-implemented methods, or they use them to support more traditional results, their conclusions will confirm (surprise!) their authors’ previous reactionary theses, such as a renewed support for the traditional monolaryngealism, and a rejection of Kortlandt’s or Kloekhorst’s (i.e. the Leiden School’s) theories on Proto-Indo-European phonology, and thus a PIE relationship to Proto-Uralic, probably stressing yet again an independent origin for both proto-languages.

See also:

Oldest N1c1a1a-L392 samples and Siberian ancestry in Bronze Age Fennoscandia

Open access preprint at bioRxiv, Ancient Fennoscandian genomes reveal origin and spread of Siberian ancestry in Europe, by Lamnidis et al. (2018).

Abstract (emphasis mine):

European history has been shaped by migrations of people, and their subsequent admixture. Recently, evidence from ancient DNA has brought new insights into migration events that could be linked to the advent of agriculture, and possibly to the spread of Indo-European languages. However, little is known so far about the ancient population history of north-eastern Europe, in particular about populations speaking Uralic languages, such as Finns and Saami. Here we analyse ancient genomic data from 11 individuals from Finland and Northwest Russia. We show that the specific genetic makeup of northern Europe traces back to migrations from Siberia that began at least 3,500 years ago. This ancestry was subsequently admixed into many modern populations in the region, in particular populations speaking Uralic languages today. In addition, we show that ancestors of modern Saami inhabited a larger territory during the Iron Age than today, which adds to historical and linguistic evidence for the population history of Finland.

Interesting excerpts (edited):

While the Siberian genetic component described here was previously described in modern-day populations from the region, we gain further insights into its temporal depth. Our data suggest that this fourth genetic component found in modern-day north-eastern Europeans arrived in the area around 4,000 years ago at the latest, as illustrated by ALDER dating using the ancient genome-wide data from Bolshoy Oleni Ostrov. The upper bound for the introduction of this component is harder to estimate. The component is absent in the Karelian hunter-gatherers (EHG) 3 dated to 8,300-7,200 yBP as well as Mesolithic and Neolithic populations from the Baltics from 8,300 yBP and 7,100-5,000 yBP respectively. While this suggests an upper bound of 5,000 yBP for the arrival of Siberian ancestry, we cannot exclude the possibility of its presence even earlier, yet restricted to more northern regions, as suggested by its absence in populations in the Baltic during the Bronze Age. Our study also presents the earliest occurrence of the Y-chromosomal haplogroup N1c in Fennoscandia. N1c is common among modern Uralic speakers, and has also been detected in Hungarian individuals dating to the 10th century, yet it is absent in all published Mesolithic genomes from Karelia and the Baltics.

The large Siberian component in the Bolshoy individuals from the Kola Peninsula provides the earliest direct genetic evidence for an eastern migration into this region. Such contact is well documented in archaeology, with the introduction of asbestos-mixed Lovozero ceramics during the second millenium BC, and the spread of even-based arrowheads in Lapland from 1,900 BCE. Additionally, the nearest counterparts of Vardøy ceramics, appearing in the area around 1,600-1,300 BCE, can be found on the Taymyr peninsula, much further to the east. Finally, the Imiyakhtakhskaya culture from Yakutia spread to the Kola Peninsula during the same period. Contacts between Siberia and Europe are also recognised in linguistics. The fact that the Siberian genetic component is consistently shared among Uralic-speaking populations, with the exceptions of Hungarians and the non-Uralic speaking Russians, would make it tempting to equate this component with the spread of Uralic languages in the area. However, such a model may be overly simplistic. First, the presence of the Siberian component on the Kola Peninsula at ca. 4000 yBP predates most linguistic estimates of the spread of Uralic languages to the area. Second, as shown in our analyses, the admixture patterns found in historic and modern Uralic speakers are complex and in fact inconsistent with a single admixture event. Therefore, even if the Siberian genetic component partly spread alongside Uralic languages, it likely presented only an addition to populations carrying this component from earlier.

Plot of ADMIXTURE (K=3) results containing West Eurasian populations and the Nganasan. Ancient individuals from this study are represented by thicker bars.

The novel genome-wide data here presented from ancient individuals from Finland opens new insights into Finnish population history. Two of the three higher coverage individuals and all six low coverage individuals from Levänluhta showed low genetic affinity to modern-day Finnish speakers of the area. Instead, an increased affinity was observed to modern-day Saami speakers, now mostly residing in the north of the Scandinavian Peninsula. These results suggest that the geographic range of the Saami extended further south in the past, and hints at a genetic shift at least in the western Finnish region during the Iron Age. The findings are in concordance with the noted linguistic shift from Saami languages to early Finnish. Further ancient DNA from Finland is needed to conclude to what extent these signals of migration and admixture are representative of Finland as a whole.

PCA plot of 113 Modern Eurasian populations, with individuals from this study projected on the principal components. Uralic speakers are highlighted in light purple.

The two samples of haplogroup N1c1a1a-L392/L1026, dated ca. 1500 BC, come from the site Bolshoy Oleniy Ostrov, in the Kola Peninsula.

Bolshoy Oleniy Ostrov (Great Reindeer Island), situated in the Kola Bay of the Barents Sea and separated from the mainland by Yekarerininsky Island and two straits, harbors the ancient cemetery of an unknown Early Metal Age culture. The preservation of artifacts made from bone and antler, wooden structures, as well as human remains is remarkable for the location and age this site represents. Altogether 19 skeletons of adults and children have been recognized from both single and collective burials of the site, together with more than 250 artifacts. (…) Apart from these excavations, approximately 25 burials were revealed in 1934 during the construction of fortifications. (…) Radiocarbon dates are provided by Moiseyev and Khartanovich in their 2012 study, placing the site in middle to the late 2nd millennium BC (…)

After seing how Late Indo-European languages spread with Yamna and (mainly) R1b-L23 lineages, we are now obtaining proof of how Siberian ancestry – likely accompanying N1c-L392 lineages – was probably related to an early archaeological Siberian influence in the easternmost region of North-East Europe, seen also probably in linguistics.

NOTE. Whereas I proposed – based mainly on common guesstimates – that R1a-M417 and EHG ancestry might have signaled the arrival of an early Yukaghir substratum to NE Europe, later acquired by Uralic spreading over this territory, while N1c1a1a lineages with the Seima-Turbino phenomenon might have given Uralic its later Altaic traits, it is indeed possible – and more likely with the findings in this paper – that N1c1a1a lineages may have in fact spread Yukaghir languages, especially if (like the Leiden school) one supports an Indo-Uralic community.

The linguistic effect of this migration may depend on one’s preferred model for Proto-Uralic and its strata, and especially on one’s position in the Proto-Uralic vs. Proto-Uralo-Yukaghir controversy. Although I really didn’t have a strong opinion on this matter, it is clear from my texts that (unlike Kortlandt) I didn’t consider Yukaghir to share a common ancestor with Uralic languages. What genomics is showing right now seems to me directly translatable to a linguistic model, and we should therefore reject an original Proto-Uralo-Yukaghir community.

Also, it seems that the Finnish population peak which expanded today’s prevalent N1c-L392 lineages – after the Iron Age bottleneck which likely reduced its haplogroup diversity – may have been associated with the event that displaced the Saami population from Finland after ca. 1000 AD.

I think it is becoming still clearer where Uralic languages came from.