Modern Hungarian mtDNA more similar to ancient Europeans than to Hungarian conquerors


New preprint at BioRxiv, MITOMIX, an Algorithm to Reconstruct Population Admixture Histories Indicates Ancient European Ancestry of Modern Hungarians, by Maroti et al. (2018).

The estimated age distribution of the shared mt Hgs between Hungarians (Hun), the best hypothetical admix (mixFreq) and the populations contributing to this admix: Belgian/Dutch (BeN), Danish (Dan), Basque (Bsq), Croatian/Serbian (CrS), Baltic Late Bronze Age culture (BalBA), Bell Beaker culture (BellB), Slovakian (Slo). The numbers in parentheses indicate the contributions to the best hypothetical admix.

Abstract (emphasis mine)

By making use of the increasing number of available mitogenomes we propose a novel population genetic distance metric, named Shared Haplogroup Distance (SHD). Unlike FST, SHD is a true mathematical distance that complies with all metric axioms, which enables our new algorithm (MITOMIX) to detect population-level admixture based on SHD minimum optimization. In order to demonstrate the effectiveness of our methodology we analyzed the relation of 62 modern and 25 ancient Eurasian human populations, and compared our results with the most widely used FST calculation. We also sequenced and performed an in-depth analysis of 272 modern Hungarian mtDNA genomes to shed light on the genetic composition of modern Hungarians. MITOMIX analysis showed that in general admixture occurred between neighboring populations, but in some cases it also indicated admixture with migrating populations. SHD and MITOMIX analysis comply with known genetic data and shows that in case of closely related and/or admixing populations, SHD gives more realistic results and provides better resolution than FST. Our results suggest that the majority of modern Hungarian maternal lineages have Late Neolith/Bronze Age European origins (partially shared also with modern Danish, Belgian/Dutch and Basque populations), and a smaller fraction originates from surrounding (Serbian, Croatian, Slovakian, Romanian) populations. However only a minor genetic contribution (<3%) was identified from the IXth Hungarian Conquerors whom are deemed to have brought Hungarians to the Carpathian Basin. Our analysis shows that SHD and MITOMIX can augment previous methods by providing novel insights into past population processes.

Unrooted hierarchic cluster of modern and archaic populations based on the SHD matrix.

It is interesting to keep receiving data as to how language does not correlate well with Genomics, whether admixture or haplogroups, even though it is already known to happen in regions such as Anatolia, the Baltic, South-Eastern or Northern Europe.

Thorough anthropological models of migration or cultural diffusion are necessary for a proper interpretation of genetic data. There is no shortcut to that.

Co-occurrence of Hungarian Bronze Age mt Hgs Distribution of mt Hgs found in Hungarian Bronze Age archaic samples in the analyzed populations. The fixation dates are based on Behar et al [6].

Images made available under a CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International license.
See also:

Eneolithic Ukraine cultures of the North Pontic steppe and southern steppe-forest, on the Left Bank of the Dnieper


As I said before, Yuri Rassamakin is one archaeologist to follow closely for those interested in Neolithic and Chalcolithic Ukraine (ca. 5000-3300 BC), including Sredni Stog, and their potential connection with the Corded Ware culture, as well as the later expansion of Yamna into the region (and Yamna settlers into south-eastern Europe).

His recent studies include important sites (for Archaeology and recently also for Genomics) such us Dereivka and Alexandria, part of the North Pontic steppe and southern steppe-forest zone, on the Left Bank of the Dnieper river. According to him, many of these sites seem to form part of a common and distinct cultural group.

1) Ohren and Alexandria Burial Grounds of Chalcolithic Period: Problems of Dating and Cultural Inheritance (in Ukrainian), Археологія (2017, Nº 4)

English abstract (sic):

The author discusses the issues of chronology of the known burial grounds. In this article, first of all, the location of a series of burials at Ihren 8 cemetery is revised and the earlier proposed point of view of the author himself is refined. An important moment for that was a revision of a paired bi-ritual burial 7-8 from the excavations in 1932 with the Trypillian painted cup of the second half of the Trypillia B/2. The author presents the arguments for the assumption that the two burials were made not at the same time. As a whole, singled out are the Early Chalcolithic burials with the peculiar for them position on a back with bended knees, accompanied by flint products, first of all tools made on long blades. The second later group is represented by two supine burials which date is determined by a Trypillian cup. Concerning Oleksandriia burial ground, the author confirms his earlier expressed position on the Early Chalcolithic age of the burials with long flint blades, presenting additional arguments, one of which is a publication of a new radiocarbon date for one of the burials. Based on the author’s terminology, graves of the both burial grounds are considered within the borders of the so called Skelianska culture existence, while in Ihren burial ground several burials could be made in the period of so called «hiatus» when there were the Stohivska group sites in the Dnipro River region.

Карта розповсюдження ґрунтових могильників: 1 — Ігрень 8; 2 — О. Виноградний; 3 — Дереївка ІІ; 4 — Молюхів Бугор; 5 — Госпітальний Холм; 6 — Олександрія

2) The Burial of the Early Eneolithic in Luhansk Region (in Ukrainian), by Y. Rassamakin and E. Chernih, Археологія (2017 Nº 2):

English abstract (sic):

A new burial complex is publishing by authors. This burial complex finds analogies among the Early Eneolithic burials of the Siversky Donets basin according to the rite and inventory (long flint blade). In addition, a set of specific flint products (long blades, triangular «spear heads» and flat adzes) finds analogies at the Aleksandriia settlement, where Skelia-type ceramics are represented. Therefore, there is a reason to combine in the same cultural and chronological context the relevant materials of the Aleksandriia settlement and the Early Eneolithic burials, and consider their as a part of the phenomenon that one of the authors conventionally calls Skelia culture.

Карта розповсюдження поховань доби раннього енеоліту в басейні Сіверського Дінця та прилеглих територій: 1 — Олександрія (могильник); 2 — Яма (Сіверськ), могильник; 3 — Ольховатка; 4 — Орловське; 5 — Олександрівськ (могильник); 6 — Ворошиловград; 7 — Луганськ 2010; 8 — Ребриківка ІІ ІІ (РФ); 9 — Донецьк (номери на карті у відповідності до табл. 1)

It remains to bee seen how this new data is interpreted with more complex anthropological models, of potential cultural-historical groups that might have shaped posterior migrations.


More evidence on the recent arrival of haplogroup N and gradual replacement of R1a lineages in North-Eastern Europe


A new article (in Russian), Kinship Analysis of Human Remains from the Sargat Mounds, Baraba forest-steppe, Western Siberia, by Pilipenko et al. Археология, этнография и антропология Евразии Том 45 № 4 2017, downloadable at ResearchGate.


We present the results of a paleogenetic analysis of nine individuals from two Early Iron Age mounds in the Baraba forest -teppe, associated with the Sargat culture (fi ve from Pogorelka-2 mound 8, and four from Vengerovo-6 mound 1). Four systems of genetic markers were analyzed: mitochondrial DNA, the polymorphic part of the amelogenin gene, autosomal STR-loci, and those of the Y-chromosome. Complete or partial data, obtained for eight of the nine individuals, were subjected to kinship analysis. No direct relatives of the “parent-child” type were detected. However, the data indicate close paternal and maternal kinship among certain individuals. This was evidently one of the reasons why certain individuals were buried under a single mound. Paternal kinship appears to have been of greater importance. The diversity of mtDNA and Y-chromosome lineages among individuals from one and the same mound suggests that kinship was not the only motive behind burying the deceased people jointly. The presence of very similar, though not identical, variants of the Y chromosome in different burial grounds may indicate the existence of groups such as clans, consisting of paternally related males. Our conclusions need further confi rmation and detailed elaboration. Keywords: Paleogenetics, ancient DNA, kinship analysis, mitochondrial DNA, uniparental genetic markers, STR-loci, Y-chromosome, Baraba forest-steppe, Sargat culture, Early Iron Age.

From the older study of the same region (Baraba, numbered 4) “Location of ancient human groups with a high frequency of mtDNA haplogroups U5, U4 and U2e lineages. The area of Northern Eurasian anthropological formation is marked by yellow region on the map (References: 1. Bramanti et al., 2009; 2. Malmstrom et
al., 2009; 3. Krause et al., 2010; 4. this study)”

Chronological time scale of Bronze Age Cultures from the Baraba region
This is the same team that brought an ancient mtDNA study of different cultures within the Baraba steppe-forest region (from the Open Access book Population Dynamics in Prehistory and Early History).

The Baraba steppe-forest is a region between the Ob and Irtysh rivers (about 800 km from west to east), stretching over 200 km from the taiga zone in the north to the steppes in the south.

The new study brings a more recent picture of the region, from the Iron Age Sargat culture, ca. 500 BC – 500 AD, with five samples of haplogroup N and two samples of haplogroup R1a.

R1a lineages in the region probably derive from the previous expansion of Andronovo and related cultures, which had absorbed North Caspian steppe populations and their Late Indo-European culture.

N subclades prevalent in certain modern Eurasian populations are probably derived from the expansion of the Seima-Turbino phenomenon.

While samples are scarce, Y-DNA data keeps showing the same picture I have spoken about more than once:

N subclades (potentially originally speaking Proto-Yukaghir languages) gradually replacing haplogroup R1a (originally probably speaking Uralic languages), probably through successive founder effects (such as the bottlenecks found in Finland), which left their Uralic culture and ethnolinguistic identification intact.

Therefore, late Corded Ware groups of North-Eastern Europe (in the Forest Zone and the Baltic), mainly of R1a-Z645 subclades, probably never adopted Late Indo-European languages.


Archaeological origins of Early Proto-Indo-European in the Baltic during the Mesolithic


New article by Leonid Zaliznyak, Mesolithic origins of the first Indo-European cultures in Europe according to the archaeological data (also available in Russian).

The article refers to the common Meso-Neolithic basis of Ukrainian ancient Indo-European cultures (Mariupol, Serednii Stih) and Central Europe (Funnel Beaker and Globular Amphorae cultures) of the fourth millennium BC. Archaeological materials show that the common cultural and genetic substrate of the earliest Indo-Europeans in Europe was forming from the sixth to the fourth millennia BC due to migration of the Western Baltic Mesolithic population to the east through Poland and Polissia to the Dnipro River middle region and further to the Siverskyi Donets River.

I already spoke about the view of the Russian school, and its interpretation of the origin of Proto-Indo-European (and potentially Indo-Uralic) in North-Eastern European Mesolithic. While the genetic interpretation seemed quite off in Klejn’s last article discussing Genetics, Zaliznyak improves the archaeological model to some extent.

This model is partially compatible with the expansion of R1b lineages and the Villabruna cluster with migrating peoples of post-Swiderian cultures into eastern Europe. However – as seems to be often the case with linguists of post-Soviet countries (maybe because of the greater influence of Nostraticists there) – proto-language dates are pushed further back in time than is warranted by usual guesstimates, and thus the model is way off as it approaches the Neolithic, and especially beyond that time.

As you can see, a Post-Swiderian expansion of (a language ancestral to) Proto-Indo-European (e.g. Pre-Indo-Uralic) is compatible with the Indo-European demic diffusion model. On the other hand, it is very difficult to assert anything about that period in terms of language change or evolution, because of scarce and obscured archaeological finds, and because of different admixture waves found in east Europe (in the Pontic-Caspian steppe, forest-steppe, and Forest Zone) during the Palaeolithic-Mesolithic – and even during the Mesolithic-Neolithic – transition.

It is therefore impossible today to ascertain if it was a community of western (R1b) or eastern (R1a) Eurasian lineages who spread Pre-Indo-Uralic; or which combination of WHG:ANE (if any) might have yielded EHG ancestry (and thus how a Pre-Indo-Uralic language might have developed from the influence of west and east Eurasian communities); or how later waves of ANE and CHG ancestry found in steppe populations (during the Neolithic) might have brought cultural change to the communities, or even if they accompanied the more recent R1a-M417 subclades (or haplogroup Q) found in the region…

Spreading of Post-Swiderian and Post-Krasnosillian sites in Mesolithic of Eastern Europe in the 8th millennia BC. See the article for an explanation of all details.

This Russian (or post-Soviet, or East European) school of thought, which is mainly based on their traditional archaeological models, tries to use new genetic data to obtain plausible archaeological-linguistic models of Indo-European expansion. Nevertheless, this improved model is likely to cause some quick dismissals and be made fun of by certain amateur geneticists.

It is curious, though, that some people are quick to judge archaeologists trying to fit new data to their traditional models – which seems like the right way of obtaining sound models for prehistoric human migrations -, but are on the other hand extremely confident about any new model based solely on genetics and their personal desires: very strong confirmation (and rejection) bias at play, indeed.

For example, how could Sredni Stog be Late Indo-European-speaking, if the best candidate for a Late Indo-European-speaking community (the Yamna culture) is almost fully unrelated? For some, simply because of the ‘Yamnaya ancestral component’.

In spite of many naysayers – amateur geneticists who hate archaeological models not fitting their dreams – , it seems that otherwise extremely disparate Indo-European schools of thought (like the German, American, and Spanish schools, the British, and even Leiden, the French, and to some extent the East European school) are converging in Linguistics, while in Archaeology Heyd’s model of Yamna migration (independent of the Corded Ware culture) is being accepted as mainstream with help from aDNA analysis – now also partially by Anthony, at last.

Only researchers of a single workgroup (very popular today, it seems) – tend to diverge from the general unifying trend, following mostly their interpretations of new genetic papers in a funny vicious circle, that is creating a growing bubble of misinformation with no substantive basis (apart from the controversial existence of a Kurgan people).

Let’s see how this ends up, if new genetic algorithms can truly revolutionise Archaeology and Linguistics, or if academic models will keep proving right over misinterpretations from recent genetic papers…

Featured image, from the article, “The settling of the early Indo-Europeans in the period from the 4th to the 2nd millennia BC”.


Prehistoric loan relations: Foreign elements in the Proto-Indo-European vocabulary


An interesting ongoing web project, Prehistoric loan relations, on potential loans of Proto-Indo-European words, from Uralic-Yukaghir, Caucasian, and Middle Eastern influence.

Based on a Ph.D. thesis by Bjørn (2017) Foreign elements in the Proto-Indo-European vocabulary (PDF).

From the website (emphasis mine):

This page allows historical linguists to compare and scrutinize proposed prehistoric lexical borrowings from the perspective of Proto-Indo-European. The first entries are all (135 in total) extracted from my master’s thesis “Foreign elements in the Proto-Indo-European vocabulary” (Bjørn 2017). Comments are encouraged at the bottom of each entry. New entries will be added, also on request.

Take this not as the conclusion, but an invitation to join the conversation.

So, we welcome the invitation, and hope that this new project thrives.

Also, I loved his fantasy-like map of the central Eurasian region (featured image on this post).


The Tollense Valley battlefield: the North European ‘Trojan war’ that hints to western Balto-Slavic origins


It was reported long ago that genetic studies were being made on remains of a surprisingly big battle that happened in the Tollense valley in north-eastern Germany, at the confluence between Nordic, Tumulus/Urnfield, and Proto-Lusatian/Lusatian territories, ca. 1200 BC.

At least 130 bodies and 5 horses have been identified from the bones found. Taking into account that this is a small percentage of the potential battlefield, around 750 bodies are expected to be buried in the riverbank, so an estimated 4,000-strong army fought there, accounting for one in five participants killed and left on the battlefield.

Tollense riverbank
The river Tollense near the village Weltzin in the district Demmin (Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany). From Wikipedia

Body armour, shields, helmet, and corselet used may have needed training and specialised groups of warriors, with their organisation being a display of military force. According to Kristiansen , this battle is therefore unlike any other known conflict of this period north of the Alps – circumscribed to raids by small groups of young men –, and may have heralded a radical change in the north, from individual farmsteads and a low population density to heavily fortified settlements.

The Urnfield culture (ca. 1300-750 BC) is associated with the rise of a new warrior elite, and the formation of new farming settlements and their urnfields. In some areas there is continuity from Tumulus to Urnfield culture, with narrowing and concentration of settlements along the river valleys, but there is also wide-ranging migrations. These migrations are similar to those seen later in the La Tène culture. This period is also coincident with the time of the mythical battle of Troy, with the collapse of the Mycenaean civilisation, and with the raids of Sea People in Egypt, and the marauders of the Hittites.

Diachronic map of migrations in Europe ca. 1250-750 BC, with the site of the Tollense valley marked.

Chemical traces already suggested that warriors fighting in Tollense came from far away, with only a few showing values typical of the northern European plain. A recently published PhD dissertation, Addressing challenges of ancient DNA sequence data obtained with next generation methods, by Christian Sell (2017) has not confirmed this:

The majority of sampled individuals fall within the variation of contemporary northern central European samples (including Nordic Late Neolithic and Bronze Age and Únětice samples); however, there are also some outliers closer to Neolithic LBK and modern Basques, suggesting that central and western European cultures were still at that time closely interconnected, continuing thus the connections created during the Bell Beaker expansion a thousand years earlier. The genetic similarity of most samples to modern western Slavic populations (as well as Austrians and Scots) gives support to the origin of Balto-Slavic in Bronze Age north-central Europe, and more specifically in the Lusatian culture.

PCA of samples from Tollense Valley battlefield. Welzin samples cluster closely to East German and Polish samples.

The Indo-European demic diffusion model supports the origin of Pre-Balto-Slavic in north-central Europe, with Únětice and Mierzanowice/Nitra groups as its potential homeland, from a common North-West Indo-European parent language (expanded through East Bell Beaker). Proto-Lusatian is therefore the best candidate for its initial development, and Lusatian for its eastern expansion, before its separation into its two main dialects (or maybe three, if Baltic is to be divided in two branches).

In fact, scarce aDNA from late Urnfield populations from its north-eastern territories, in Saxony – near the Lusatian culture –, already show a mixture of lineages, which suggest genetic continuity with older cultures (or more likely a resurge) after the Bell Beaker expansions: R1a1a1b1a-Z282 lineage was found in Halberstadt (ca. 1085 BC), and of the eight males studied from the Lichtenstein cave (ca. 1000 BC), five were of haplogroup I2a2b-L38, two of haplogroup R1a1-M459, and one of haplogroup R1b-M343.

Regarding modern populations, the eastern and western peaks in R1a1a1b1a1-M458 lineages might support a west-east migration, as well as an east-west migration, and indeed both in different periods, which is expected to be found if Lusatian is linked to the initial eastward expansion of Balto-Slavic during the Bronze and Iron Ages, and later younger subclades are linked to the West Slavic expansion to the west during Antiquity.

Map rendered in pseudocolours for R-M458 frequencies, data derived from Underhill et al. (2014). Positions of boundaries (NE,NW,C,etc) are approximate. Variation of N and S. Caucasus region of Russia rendered as stripes showing range of variation in the region. From Wikipedia.

Now, if this is so, then we have to accept that these territories of north-central Europe (between East Germany and Poland), occupied earlier by Corded Ware cultures, adopted Balto-Slavic only after the Bell Beaker expansion; therefore, models arguing for Balto-Slavic origins in east European late Corded Ware groups (or heir cultures), like Trzciniec, Chornoles, Bilozerska, or Milograd (see e.g. the article on Wikipedia) have to be rejected. We also know that Pre-Germanic could have only formed in the Nordic Late Neolithic, after the cultural unification of the Dagger Period, heraled by the arrival of Bell Beakers; and that Indo-Iranian was the language of the Sintashta-Petrovka culture, which had absorbed the previous (Yamna-related) Poltavka culture.

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

But, if Indo-European was only spoken at both ends of territories previously occupied by Corded Ware cultures – stretching from Scandinavia to the Urals, including the Baltic region… what language did Corded Ware peoples actually speak? The most likely one? Uralic, indeed.