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.


Reconstruction of Y-DNA phylogeny helps also reconstruct Tibeto-Burman expansion


New paper (behind paywall) Reconstruction of Y-chromosome phylogeny reveals two neolithic expansions of Tibeto-Burman populations by Wang et al. Mol Genet Genomics (2018).

Interesting excerpts:

Archeological studies suggest that a subgroup of ancient populations of the Miaodigou culture (~ 6300–5500 BP) moved westward to the upper stream region of the Yellow River and created the Majiayao culture (~ 5400–4900 BP) (Liu et al. 2010), which was proposed to be the remains of direct ancestors of Tibeto-Burman populations (Sagart 2008). On the other hand, Han populations, the other major descendant group of the Yang-Shao culture (~ 7000–5500 BP), are composed of many other sub-lineages of Oα-F5 and extremely low frequencies of D-M174 (Additional files 1: Figure S1; Additional files 2: Table S1). Therefore, we propose that Oα-F5 may be one of the dominant paternal lineages in ancient populations of Yang-Shao culture and its successors.

In this study, we demonstrated that both sub-lineages of D-M174 and Oα-F5 are founding paternal lineages of modern Tibeto-Burman populations. The genetic patterns suggested that the ancestor group of modern Tibeto-Burman populations may be an admixture of two distinct ancient populations. One of them may be hunter–gatherer populations who survived on the plateau since the Paleolithic Age, represented by varied sub-lineages of sub-lineages of D-M174. The other one was comprised of farmers who migrated from the middle Yellow River basin, represented by sub-lineages of Oα-F5. In general, the genetic evidence in this study supports the conclusion that the appearance of the ancestor group of Tibeto-Burman populations was triggered by the Neolithic expansion from the upper-middle Yellow River basin and admixture with local populations on the Tibetan Plateau (Su et al. 2000).

Simplified phylogenetic tree showing sample locations. The size of the circle for each sampling location corresponds to the number of samples

Two neolithic expansion origins of Tibeto‑Burman populations

We also observed significant differences in the paternal gene pool of different subgroups of Tibeto-Burman populations. Haplogroup D-M174 contributed ~ 54% percent in a sampling of 2354 Tibetan males throughout the Tibetan Plateau (Qi et al. 2013). Previous studies have also found high frequencies of D-M174 in other populations on the Tibetan Plateau (Shi et al. 2008), including Sherpa (Lu et al. 2016) and Qiang (Wang et al. 2014). In contrast, haplogroup D-M174 is rare or absent from Tibeto-Burman populations from Northeast India and Burma (Shi et al. 2008). In populations of the Ngwi-Burmese language subgroup, the average frequencies of haplogroup D-M174 are ~ 5% (Dong et al. 2004; Peng et al. 2014). Furthermore, we found that lineage Oα1c1b-CTS5308 is mainly found in Tibeto-Burman populations from the Tibetan Plateau. In contrast, lineage Oα1c1a-Z25929 was found in Tibeto-Burman populations from Northeast India, Burma, and the Yunan and Hunan provinces of China (Additional files 1: Figure S1; Additional files 2: Table S1). In general, enrichment of lineage Oα1c1b- CTS5308 and high frequencies of D-M174 can be found in most Tibeto-Burman populations on the Tibetan Plateau and adjacent regions, whereas Tibeto-Burman populations from other regions tend to have lineage Oα1c1a-Z25929 and a little to no percentage of D-M174.

The inconsistent pattern we observed in the paternal gene pool of modern Tibeto-Burman populations suggested that there may be two distinct ancestor groups (Fig. 3). The proposed migration routes shown in Fig. 3 are somewhat different from those proposed by Su et al. (2000). According to our age estimation, most of the D1a2a-P47 samples belong to sub-lineage PH116, a young lineage that emerged ~ 2500 years ago (95% CI 1915–3188 years). On the other hand, continuous differentiation can be observed on a phylogenetic tree of lineages D1a1a1a1-PH4979 and D1a1a1a2-Z31591 since 6000 years ago. Therefore, we proposed that a group of ancient populations may have moved to the upper basin of the Yellow River and admixed intensively with local populations with high frequencies of haplogroup D-M174, including its sub-lineage D1a2a-P47 (Fig. 3). This ancestor group eventually gave birth to modern Tibeto-Burman populations on the Tibetan Plateau and adjacent regions. The other ancestor group moved toward the southwest and finally reached South East Asia (Burma and other locations) and the northeastern part of India (Fig. 3). This ancestor group may have had no or a minor admixture of D-M174 in their paternal gene pool.

Two proposed ancestor groups and migration routes for Tibeto-Burman populations

Long‑term admixture before expansion to a high‑altitude region

It is interesting to investigate the time gap between the appearance of Neolithic cultures in the northeastern part of the Tibetan Plateau and the final phase of human expansion across the Tibetan Plateau. The Majiayao culture (~ 5400–4900 BP) is the earliest Neolithic culture in the northeastern part of the Tibetan Plateau (Liu et al. 2010). However, previous archeological study has suggested that the final phase of diffusion into the high-altitude area of the Tibetan Plateau occurred at approximately 3.6 kya (Chen et al. 2015). Our genetic evidence in this study is consistent with this scenario based on archeological evidence. Based on Y-chromosome analysis in this study, many unique lineages of Tibeto-Burman populations emerged between 6000 years ago and 2500 years ago (Additional files 3: Table S2). The most recent common age of D1a2-PH116, a sub-lineage that spread throughout the Tibetan Plateau, is only 2500 years ago.

We propose that there may be two important factors for the observed age gap. First, living in a high-altitude environment may require some crucial physical characteristics that were lacking from Neolithic immigrants from the middle Yellow River Basin. Intense genetic admixture with local people who had survived on the Tibetan Plateau since the Paleolithic Age may have actually guaranteed the expansion of humans across the Tibetan Plateau. Therefore, a long period of admixture, lasting from 5.4 to 3.6 kya, may be necessary for the appearance of a population with beneficial genetic variants that was genetically adapted to the high-altitude environment. Second, technological innovations, such as the domestication of wheat and highland barley (Chen et al. 2015), establishment of yak pastoralism (Rhode et al. 2007), and introduction of other culture elements in the Bronze Age (Ma et al. 2016), are also important factors that facilitated permanent settlements with large population sizes in the high-altitude area of the Tibetan Plateau.


Early Indo-Iranian formed mainly by R1b-Z2103 and R1a-Z93, Corded Ware out of Late PIE-speaking migrations


The awaited, open access paper on Asian migrations is out: The Genomic Formation of South and Central Asia, by Narasimhan et al. bioRxiv (2018).


The genetic formation of Central and South Asian populations has been unclear because of an absence of ancient DNA. To address this gap, we generated genome-wide data from 362 ancient individuals, including the first from eastern Iran, Turan (Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan), Bronze Age Kazakhstan, and South Asia. Our data reveal a complex set of genetic sources that ultimately combined to form the ancestry of South Asians today. We document a southward spread of genetic ancestry from the Eurasian Steppe, correlating with the archaeologically known expansion of pastoralist sites from the Steppe to Turan in the Middle Bronze Age (2300-1500 BCE). These Steppe communities mixed genetically with peoples of the Bactria Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC) whom they encountered in Turan (primarily descendants of earlier agriculturalists of Iran), but there is no evidence that the main BMAC population contributed genetically to later South Asians. Instead, Steppe communities integrated farther south throughout the 2nd millennium BCE, and we show that they mixed with a more southern population that we document at multiple sites as outlier individuals exhibiting a distinctive mixture of ancestry related to Iranian agriculturalists and South Asian hunter-gathers. We call this group Indus Periphery because they were found at sites in cultural contact with the Indus Valley Civilization (IVC) and along its northern fringe, and also because they were genetically similar to post-IVC groups in the Swat Valley of Pakistan. By co-analyzing ancient DNA and genomic data from diverse present-day South Asians, we show that Indus Periphery-related people are the single most important source of ancestry in South Asia — consistent with the idea that the Indus Periphery individuals are providing us with the first direct look at the ancestry of peoples of the IVC — and we develop a model for the formation of present-day South Asians in terms of the temporally and geographically proximate sources of Indus Periphery-related, Steppe, and local South Asian hunter-gatherer-related ancestry. Our results show how ancestry from the Steppe genetically linked Europe and South Asia in the Bronze Age, and identifies the populations that almost certainly were responsible for spreading Indo-European languages across much of Eurasia.

NOTE. The supplementary material seems to be full of errors right now, because it lists as R1b-M269 (and further subclades) samples that have been previously expressly said were xM269, so we will have to wait to see if there are big surprises here. So, for example, samples from Mal’ta (M269), Iron Gates (M269 and L51), and Latvia Mesolithic (L51), a Deriivka sample from 5230 BC (M269), Armenia_EBA (Z2103)…Also, the sample from Yuzhnyy Oleni Ostrov is R1a-M417 now.

EDIT (1 APR 2018): The main author has confirmed on Twitter that they have used a new Y Chr caller that calls haplogroups given the data provided, and depending on the coverage tried to provide a call to the lowest branch of the tree possible, so there are obviously a lot of mistakes – not just in the subclades of R. A revision of the paper is on its way, and soon more people will be able to work with the actual samples, since they say they are releasing them.

Nevertheless, since it is subclades (and not haplogroups) the apparent source of gross errors, for the moment it seems we can say with a great degree of confidence that:

  • New samples of East Yamna / Poltavka are of haplogroup R1b-L23.
  • Afanasevo is confirmed to be dominated by R1b-M269.
  • Sintashta, as I predicted could happen, shows a mixed R1b-L23/ R1a-Z645 society, compatible with my model of continuity of Proto-Indo-Iranian in the East Yamna admixture with late Corded Ware immigrants.

With lesser confidence in precise subclades, we find that:

  • A sample from Hajji Firuz in Iran ca. 5650 BC, of subclade R1b-Z2103, may confirm Mesolithic R1b-M269 lineages from the Caucasus as the source of CHG ancestry to Khvalynsk/Yamna, and be thus the reason why Reich wrote about a potential PIE homeland south of the Caucasus . (EDIT 11 APR 2018) The sample shows steppe ancestry, therefore the date is most likely incorrect, and a new radiocarbon dating is due. It is still interesting – depending on the precise subclade – for its potential relationship with IE migrations into the area.
  • New samples of East Yamna / Poltavka are of haplogroup R1b-Z2103.
  • Afanasevo migrants are mainly of haplogroup R1b-Z2103.
    • The Darra-e Kur sample, ca. 2655, of haplogroup R1b-L151, without a clear cultural adscription, may be the expected sign of Afanasevo migrants (Pre-Proto-Tocharian speakers) expanding a Northern Indo-European (in contrast with a Southern or Graeco-Aryan) dialect, in a region closely linked with the later desert mummies in the Tarim Basin. Its early presence there would speak in favour of a migration through the Inner Asian Mountain Corridor previous to the one caused by Andronovo migrants.
  • Sintashta shows a mixed R1b-Z2103 / R1a-Z93 society.
    • Later Indo-Iranian migrations are apparently dominated by R1a-Z2123, an early subclade of R1a-Z93, also found in Srubna.
    • R1b is also seen later in BMAC (ca. 1487 BC), although its subclade is not given.
  • There is also a sample of R1a-Z283 subclade in the eastern steppe (ca. 1600 BC). What may be interesting about it is that it could mark one of the subclades not responsible for the expansion of Balto-Slavic (or responsible for it with the expansion of Srubna, for those who support an Indo-Slavonic branch related Sintashta-Potapovka).
  • A sample of R1b-U106 subclade is found in Loebanr_IA ca. 950 BC, which – together with the sample of Darra-e Kur – is compatible with the presence of L51 in Yamna.

NOTE. Errors in haplogroups of previously published samples make every subclade of new samples from the supplementary table questionable, but all new samples (safe for the Darra_i_Kur one) were analysed and probably reported by the Reich Lab, and at least upper subclades in each haplogroup tree seem mostly coherent with what was expected. Also, the contribution of Iranian Farmer related (a population in turn contributing to Hajji Firuz) to Khvalynsk in their sketch of the genetic history may be a sign of the association of R1b-M269 lineages with CHG ancestry, although previous data on precise R1b subclades in the region contradict this. (EDIT 11 APR 2018) The sample of Hajji Firuz is most likely much younger than the published date, hence its younger subclade may be correct. No revision or comment on this matter has been published, though.

Modeling results. (A) Admixture events originating from 7 “Distal” populations leading 538 to the formation of the modern Indian cloud shown geographically. Clines or 2-way mixtures of 539 ancestry are shown in rectangles, and clouds (3-way mixtures) are shown in ellipses.

Also, it seems that the Corded Ware culture appears now irrelevant for Late Proto-Indo-European migrations. Observe:

In the text, a consistent terminology of Yamnaya or Yamnaya-related Steppe pastoralists, discarding the relevance of previous migrations from the North Pontic steppe in spreading Late Indo-European:

Our results also shed light on the question of the origins of the subset of Indo-European languages spoken in India and Europe (45). It is striking that the great majority of Indo-European speakers today living in both Europe and South Asia harbor large fractions of ancestry related to Yamnaya Steppe pastoralists (corresponding genetically to the Steppe_EMBA cluster), suggesting that “Late Proto-Indo-European”—the language ancestral to all modern Indo- European languages—was the language of the Yamnaya (46). While ancient DNA studies have documented westward movements of peoples from the Steppe that plausibly spread this ancestry to Europe (5, 31), there has not been ancient DNA evidence of the chain 488 of transmission to South Asia. Our documentation of a large-scale genetic pressure from Steppe_MLBA groups in the 2nd millennium BCE provides a prime candidate, a finding that is consistent with archaeological evidence of connections between material culture in the Kazakh middle-to-late Bronze Age Steppe and early Vedic culture in India (46).

EDIT (1 APR 2018): I corrected this text and the word ‘official’ in the title, because more than rejecting the role of Corded Ware migrants in expanding Late PIE, they actually seem to keep considering Corded Ware migrants as continuing the western Yamna expansion in the Carpathian Basin, so no big ‘official’ change or retraction in this paper, just subtle movements out of their previous model.

Modeling results.(B) A 540 schematic model of events originating from 7 “Distal” populations leading to the formation of 541 the modern Indian cline, shown chronologically. (C) Admixture proportions as estimated 542 using qpAdm for populations reflected in A and B.

NOTE. If they correct the haplogroups soon, I will update the information in this post. Unless there is a big surprise that merits a new one, of course.

EDIT (1 APR 2018): Multiple minor edits to the original post.

EDIT (2 APR 2018): While I and other simple-minded people were only looking to confirm our previous theories using Y-DNA haplogroups, and are content with wildly speculating over the consequences if some of those strange (probably wrong) ones were true, intelligent people are using their time for something useful, interpreting the results of the investigation as described in the paper, to offer a clearer picture of Indo-Iranian migrations for everyone:

Visit the beautiful interactive map with samples: with their location, PCA, ADMIXTURE and haplogroups (still with those originally given):!/vizhome/TheGenomicFormationofSouthandCentralAsia/Fig_1

Featured image, from the article: “A Tale of Two Subcontinents. The prehistory of South Asia and Europe are parallel in both being impacted by two successive spreads, the first from the Near East after 7000 BCE bringing agriculturalists who mixed with local hunter-gatherers, and the second from the Steppe after 3000 BCE bringing people who spoke Indo-European languages and who mixed with those they encountered during their migratory movement. Mixtures of these mixed populations then produced the rough clines of ancestry present in both South Asia and in Europe today (albeit with more variable proportions of local hunter-gatherer-related ancestry in Europe than in India), which are (imperfectly) correlated to geography. The plot shows in contour lines the time of the expansion of Near Eastern agriculture. Human movements and mixtures, which also plausibly contributed to the spread of languages, are shown with arrows.”


Y-DNA haplogroup R1b-Z2103 in Proto-Indo-Iranians?


We already know that the Sintashta -> Andronovo migrants will probably be dominated by Y-DNA R1a-Z93 lineages. However, I doubt it will be the only Y-DNA haplogroup found.

I said in my predictions for this year that there could not be much new genetic data to ascertain how Pre-Indo-Iranian survived the invasion, gradual replacement and founder effects that happened in terms of male haplogroups after the arrival of late Corded Ware migrants, and that we should probably have to rely on anthropological explanations for language continuity despite genetic replacement, as in the Basque case.

Nevertheless, since we have very few samples, I think we could still see a clear genetic contribution from Yamna to Corded Ware immigrants in the North Caspian region (from Abashevo, in turn a mix of Fatyanovo/Balanovo and Catacomb/Poltavka cultures) in terms of:

  • Ancestral components and PCA in new Sintashta-Petrovka, Andronovo, and/or later samples – similar the ‘steppe’ drift seen in Potapovka relative to Sintashta samples, both formed by incoming Corded Ware migrants – ; and
  • R1b-L23 subclades, either appearing scattered during the Sintashta melting pot (of Abashevo/R1a-Z645 and East Yamna-Poltavka/R1b-Z2103 peoples), or resurging after this period, as we have seen in Pre-Balto-Slavic territory.

This contribution could better explain the obvious language continuity in the region, beautifully complementing the complex anthropological model we have now of archaeological continuity of Sintashta and Potapovka with the previous Poltavka, seen in a similar material and symbolic culture that survived the arrival of newcomers.

A lot of people seem to be looking like crazy since O&M 2018 for some sort of connection between Corded Ware and Yamna migrants in Eastern and Central Europe (wheter in SNP calls of samples published, or among almost forgotten academic papers), either to support the ideas of the 2015 papers – for those who relied on their conclusions and built (even if only mentally) far-fetched migration models around it – , or just because of some sort of absurd continuity theory involving modern R1a-Z645 subclades:

NOTE. The situation we have seen with the hundreds of samples from O&M 2018, and with the recent additional Eastern European samples, depict an unexpected absolutely clear-cut distinction in Y-DNA haplogroups between Corded Ware and Yamna/Bell Beaker: I really can’t see how the situation could be more obvious for everyone, so I doubt any further samples will make certain people change their minds. Their hope is, I guess, that just one sample may give some more oxygen to infinite pet theories, as we are still surprisingly seeing even with reactionary R1b autochthonous continuists in Western Europe…

However, looking into the most likely future for the field, what we should be expecting right now is continuity of Yamna ancestry and lineages in early Proto-Indo-Iranian territory. Since we only have a few samples from Sintashta-Petrovka, Potapovka, and Andronovo, I think there might be a sizeable number of R1b-Z2103 subclades in the territory inhabited by those who – no doubt – spread the language into Central Asia.

Modern Y-DNA haplogroup R1b distribution, by Maulucioni at Wikipedia

While full population replacement by R1a-Z93 lineages in the North Caspian region ca. 2000 BC is not impossible, I don’t think it is very likely, since we already know that there are R1b-Z2103 lineages widely distributed in Indo-Iranian-speaking territory, and Z93 is now known to be an older subclade than YFull’s mean formation date suggested (due to the Ukraine_Eneolithic I6561 sample‘s SNP call), so what we can infer now that actually happened in Sintashta -> Andronovo is not exactly the spread of haplogroup Z93 during its formation, but rather a regional reduction in its variability coupled with the expansion of some of its subclades.

The main question, after the South Asia paper is finally published, will then be:

  1. Given that Yamna peoples were an elite group of patrilineally-related families mainly of R1b-L23 subclades:
  2. Accepting that PCA, ADMIXTURE, and other statistical methods are not relevant (alone) for ethnolinguistic identification: e.g. Yamna ‘outliers’ and East Bell Beaker migrants of R1b-L23 lineages without steppe ancestry; N1c1a1a-L392 lineages and Siberian ancestry unrelated to Uralic speakers; R1a-Z645 and steppe ancestry in North-East Europe related to Uralic-speaking cultures
  3. If we find now, as I expect, genetic continuity of east Yamna in Sintashta -> Andronovo (relative to other late Corded Ware peoples), probably including haplogroup R1b-Z2103 mixed with R1a-Z93 before its further reduction of subclades (e.g. to L657) and expansion during its subsequent spread southward…

Diachronic map of migrations in Asia ca. 2250-1750 BC

Why exactly do we need Corded Ware to explain migrations of Late Indo-European speakers?

In other words: if we had the data we have today in 2015, would we have a need for Corded Ware to explain Indo-European migrations from the steppe? Are some people so blinded by their will to (appear to) be right in their past interpretations that they can’t just let go?

NOTE. On a side note, wouldn’t it be nice for this paper to publish some other R1b-L23 (x2103) sample – maybe even R1b-L51 – in Yamna, Andronovo, or Afanasevo territory, to end both autochthonous continuity theories (of North-Eastern and Western Europe) at the same time?

I really hope someone in David Reich’s team understands this matter, or else they will still identify Corded Ware as the (now probably ‘a’ instead) vector of expansion of Indo-European languages, and some of us will still have fun for another 2 or 3 years with such conclusions, until someone in the lab realizes that ancestry ≠ population ≠ ethnic identification ≠ language.

NOTE. It seems rather dull to read how people are discussing in the Twitterverse conventional constructs like ‘human race‘ as found in Reich’s op-ed in The New York Times, as if such grandiose semantic discussions had any practical meaning, when basic anthropological questions actually relevant for Genomics, like the essential ancestral component ≠ people tenet seem not to be of interest for anyone in the field….

Since our Indo-European demic difusion model (and its consequences for our reconstruction of North-West Indo-European) and this blog are becoming more and more popular each day – judging by the constant growth in visits in the past 6 months or so – , I guess the simplemindedness and predictability of certain geneticists is benefitting traditional anthropology directly, driving more and more amateur geneticists to look for sound academic models to answer the growing inconsistencies of genetic research.

NOTE. I am not saying the rejection of Corded Ware as spreading Indo-European is definitive. Maybe more samples within some years will depict a clear ancient expansion of Early or Middle Proto-Indo-Europeans from Khvalynsk to the forest-steppe and forest zone, and later with certain Corded Ware migrants into Central Europe, over whose territory a Late Indo-European dialect from Bell Beakers became the superstrate, as some have proposed in the past – e.g. to explain Krahe’s Old European hydronymy. I really doubt you could demonstrate such an old ethnolinguistic identification with a clear, unbroken archaeological trail, though, and we know now that this old hydronymy is probably of Late Indo-European nature (possibly even more recent).

What I am saying is: with the data we have now, it does not make any sense to keep the anthropological models invented by geneticists ex nihilo in 2015, and the hundred different alternative Late Indo-European migration models that arebornwitheachnewpaper.

These Yamna -> Corded Ware migration models didn’t have any sense for me since early 2016, but now after O&M 2017, and especially O&M 2018, I don’t think any geneticist with a little knowledge in Linguistics or Archaeology (if they are decent about their quest for truth in describing ancient European migrations) would buy them, if not for some sort of created ‘tradition’. So let’s ditch Corded Ware as Late Indo-European-speaking, let’s accept that late Corded Ware migrants should most likely be identified as early Uralic speakers, and then future data will tell if we are – again – wrong.

Please, don’t let Genomics become another pseudoscience based solely on Bioinformatics like glottochronology: let anthropologists (preferably mainstream archaeologists, but also the true Indo-Europeanists, linguists) help you interpret your raw data. Don’t deceive yourselves thinking that you have read enough about the Indo-European question, or that you know enough Indo-Europeanists (say what?) to derive your own conclusions.

Use the South Asia paper to begin expressly retracting the Corded Ware mess.

Please pretty please with sugar on top?


For commenters: this post concerns an anthropological question, and deals with the expansion of Late Proto-Indo-European speakers from Yamna, and the controversy surrounding the role of Corded Ware migrants that a handful of academics propose spread from it, based on a renewed model of Gimbutas’ outdated Kurgan theory and on the so-called ‘Yamnaya’ ancestry.

It happens so that the discussion has turned lately mainly to ancient Y-DNA haplogroups, because they help confirm previous mainstream anthropological models of cultural diffusion and migration. It is obviously not reasonable to judge prehistoric ethnolinguistic migrations from ca. 5,000 years ago based on historical nation-states and ethnic or religious concepts invented since the Middle Ages, coupled with “your” people’s main modern (or your own) paternal lineage.

EDIT (27 MAR 2018): Minor corrections and post made shorter.

Yet another Bayesian phylogenetic tree – now for Dravidian


Open access A Bayesian phylogenetic study of the Dravidian language family, by Kolipakam et al. (including Bouckaert and Gray), Royal Society Open Science (2018).

Abstract (emphasis mine):

The Dravidian language family consists of about 80 varieties (Hammarström H. 2016 Glottolog 2.7) spoken by 220 million people across southern and central India and surrounding countries (Steever SB. 1998 In The Dravidian languages (ed. SB Steever), pp. 1–39: 1). Neither the geographical origin of the Dravidian language homeland nor its exact dispersal through time are known. The history of these languages is crucial for understanding prehistory in Eurasia, because despite their current restricted range, these languages played a significant role in influencing other language groups including Indo-Aryan (Indo-European) and Munda (Austroasiatic) speakers. Here, we report the results of a Bayesian phylogenetic analysis of cognate-coded lexical data, elicited first hand from native speakers, to investigate the subgrouping of the Dravidian language family, and provide dates for the major points of diversification. Our results indicate that the Dravidian language family is approximately 4500 years old, a finding that corresponds well with earlier linguistic and archaeological studies. The main branches of the Dravidian language family (North, Central, South I, South II) are recovered, although the placement of languages within these main branches diverges from previous classifications. We find considerable uncertainty with regard to the relationships between the main branches.

MCC tree summary of the posterior probability distribution of the tree sample generated by the analysis with the relaxed covarion model with relative mutation rates estimated. Node bars give the 95% highest posterior density (HPD) limits of the node heights. Numbers over branches give the posterior probability of the node to the right (range 0–1). Colour coding of the branches gives subgroup affiliation: red, South I; blue, Central; purple, North; yellow, South II.

With every new paper using these revamped pseudoscientific linguistic methods popular in the early 2000s, including glottochronology, Swadesh lists, phylogenetic trees, mutation rates, etc. I feel a little more like Sergeant Murtaugh…

Featured image, from the article: “Map of the Dravidian languages in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nepal adapted from Ethnologue [2]. Each polygon represents a language variety (language or dialect). Colours correspond to subgroups (see text). The three large South I languages, Kannada, Tamil and Malayalam are light red, while the smaller South I languages are bright red. Languages present in the dataset used in this paper are indicated by name, with languages with long (950 + years) literatures in bold.”

See also:

Mitogenomes show ancient human migrations to and through North-East India not of males exclusively


New open article Ancient Human Migrations to and through Jammu Kashmir- India were not of Males Exclusively, by Sharma et al., Scientific Reports 8, N. 851 (2018)


Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), the Northern most State of India, has been under-represented or altogether absent in most of the phylogenetic studies carried out in literature, despite its strategic location in the Himalayan region. Nonetheless, this region may have acted as a corridor to various migrations to and from mainland India, Eurasia or northeast Asia. The belief goes that most of the migrations post-late-Pleistocene were mainly male dominated, primarily associated with population invasions, where female migration may thus have been limited. To evaluate female-centered migration patterns in the region, we sequenced 83 complete mitochondrial genomes of unrelated individuals belonging to different ethnic groups from the state. We observed a high diversity in the studied maternal lineages, identifying 19 new maternal sub-haplogroups (HGs). High maternal diversity and our phylogenetic analyses suggest that the migrations post-Pleistocene were not strictly paternal, as described in the literature. These preliminary observations highlight the need to carry out an extensive study of the endogamous populations of the region to unravel many facts and find links in the peopling of India.


To conclude, the extent of presence of variants defining novel HGs or personal variants indicate high diversity in maternal genetic component of the population of J&K. Statistical analyses indicate that maternal population in J&K have undergone expansion, along with other regions of Indian sub-continent9. However, signatures of maternal gene pool expansion in the region past LGM and early Holocene era are also seen, and this is a unique observation for the present study. These distinct signatures and maternal lineages, never reported before in India, apparently suggest that this region might have served as a corridor, yet also as a reservoir for many unreported lineages.

The overall diversity seen in the maternal gene pool of J&K suggests that the migrations to and through this region were not exclusively of males. This data has refined the existing phylogenetic tree and added to the information further diversity of mtDNA in Indian populations. Further, this preliminary study highlights the importance of the region and emphasizes that the populations of this region should be studied extensively to understand the gene pool of Indian populations. Along with the Y chromosomal and mtDNA markers, a study of autosomal markers is also warranted in these population groups. It is anticipated to help in finding some of the missing links in the evolution of modern humans and their migratory history to and from the mainland India and the Indian subcontinent, a future perspective of our study. Further, we would like to emphasize that the endogamous populations should be studied with respect to their individual evolutionary and migration histories, rather than pooling these together as one group, an underlying drawback that has plagued many of the Indian population based studies in the past, diluting individual signatures and masking stories their DNA has to tell.

See also:

The Indus Valley Civilisation in genetics – the Harappan Rakhigarhi project


Razib Khan reports on his new website about an article by Tony Joseph, Who built the Indus Valley civilisation?, itself referring to the potential upcoming results of a genetic analysis project involving Rakhigarhi, the biggest Harappan site.

The possible scenarios based on potential sample results in terms of Y-DNA and mtDNA haplogroups seem to be generally well described, and I would bet – like Khan – for some kind of an East-West Eurasian connection. This is all pure speculation, though, and after all we only have to wait one month and see.

Detailed map of Indus Valley Civilization settlements. Key: ville actuelle – modern cities; site indusien – Indus Valley Civilization site; site majeur – major site (from Wikipedia, by Michel Danino)

Out of the potential models laid out by Joseph something struck me as plainly wrong. From the section about R1a and Vedic Aryans (emphasis mine):

In the ancient DNA from Rakhigarhi, scientists identify R1a, one of the hundreds of Y-DNA haplogroups (or male lineages that are passed on from fathers to sons). They also identify H2b — one of the hundreds of mt-DNA haplogroups (or female lineages that are passed on from mothers to daughters) — that has often been found in proximity to R1a.

There is no reason whatsoever to think that this would be the research finding, but if it is, it would cause a global convulsion in the fields of population genetics, history and linguistics. It would also cause great cheer among the advocates of the theory that says that the Indus Valley civilisation was Vedic Aryan.


And it goes on to postulate reasons why such a big fuss will be created about the potential finding of haplogroup R1a, and its implications for the Out-of-India Theory. A global convulsion, no less.

But, since when do genetic findings cause revolutions in Linguistics? Or even in Archaeology?

When I thought the identification of R1a – Indo-European could never reach a lower level of unscientific nonsense, based on circular reasoning, here it is, a worse example.

Not only are there people waiting desperately to see just one sample of an R1a subclade in Yamna to oversimplistically identify (yet again) Corded Ware with the Indo-European expansion; there are also people waiting to find just one sample in India or Central Asia to destroy the current models of steppe origins for Proto-Indo-European.

I guess this childish game is more or less based on the same premises that made some people believe that the concept of the ‘Yamnaya component’ destroyed traditional archaeological models.

Modern haplogroup R1a distribution from The Genetic Atlas (PD), the kind of simplistic maps that generated the current misconceptions (or how to sow the wind among populations with an inferiority complex).

It seems that all new methods involving admixture analysis, PCA, and other statistical tools to study Human Ancestry are still irrelevant for most, and indeed that Archaeology and even Linguistics are at the service of the simplistic identification of ancient languages with modern haplogroup distributions.

We are reliving the 1990s in Genetics, and the 1930s in Archaeology and Linguistics all over again. This must be great news for companies that offer genetic analyses… I wonder if it is also good for Science, though.

The funny thing is, the same people responsible for the survival of these misconceptions, i.e. R1a – Indo-European fanboys, who constantly fan the flames of absurd genetic-genealogical and ethnolinguistic identification, are often the first to criticize models compatible with the Out-of-India Theory.

I really hope some R1a subclade is found among the samples, so that stupidity can reach the lowest possible level in discussions among amateur geneticists obsessed with haplogroup R1a’s role in the expansion of Indo-European speakers. Maybe then will the rest of us be able to overcome this renewed moronic supremacist trends hidden behind supposedly objective migration models.

For those interested in actual Indo-European migration models, the finding of early R1a subclades in central Asia (or India) – like the potential finding of R1a subclades in Yamnadoes change neither Archaeology nor Linguistics on the Indo-European question.

Genomics is merely helping these disciplines evolve, by supporting certain archaeological models of migration over others, but no revolution has been seen yet, and none is expected.

Each new genetic paper helps support the strongest archaeological models of steppe origins for Proto-Indo-European, and a Late Indo-European expansion compatible with current Linguistic reconstructions.

Featured image: From Wikipedia, Indus Valley Civilization, Mature Phase (2600-1900 BCE), by Jane McIntosh.