Sintashta-Petrovka and Potapovka cultures, and the cause of the Steppe EMBA – MLBA differences

Interesting recent papers on Sintashta and related Volga-Ural MLBA communities, with relevant excerpts (emphasis mine):

Social Organization of the Sintashta-Petrovka Groups of the Late Bronze Age and a Cause for Origin of Social Elites (Based on Materials of the Settlement of Kamenny Ambar), by Chechushkov et al. Stratum Plus (2018) Nº2.

Abstract (official, in English):

The formation of social complexity often unfolded in non-unilineal ways in those regions of the world where the surplus product remained low enough to support institutionalized power and state bureaucracy. The Bronze Age of Northern Eurasia is a vivid example where social complexity arose based on herding economy, while population density remained low enough not to form territorially separate competing groups. Studying of such societies sheds light on how and under what conditions the social elite emerged. The undertaken analysis suggests that the formation, development, and decline of social complexity in the Bronze Age steppe societies were directly related to the intensification of subsistence practices and colonization of new territories. At the same time, some members of the society took upon themselves the role of community life’s managers, and, in return, received privileged statuses. The environment and the economy changing, the need for such functions disappeared. As a result, the Bronze Age social elites dissolved in the mass and lost their privileged statuses.

Open access Sintashta as a transcultural phenomenon, by N.B. Vinogradov, Архив Поволжская археология №1 (23) 2018.

Abstract (official, in English)

The paper features a substantiation of the understanding of Sintashta-type monuments dating back to the boundary of the Middle and Late Bronze Ages in the Southern Trans- Urals as a transcultural phenomenon, the establishment and operation of which has been associated with the clans of miners, smelters and smiths of the Southern Ural cultures of the studied period. In the author’s opinion, the variety of ceramic complexes from Sintashta burial mounds suggest a reconsideration of several cultural traditions and the peculiar nature of family and marriage relations practiced by the clans of Sintashta-type communities.

Interesting excerpts, from the conclusion (translated from Russian):

1. In contrast to the pastoral cattle-breeding cultures of the Alakul cultural-historical community, the Sintashta clan-communities, in the author’s opinion, were a more specific transcultural phenomenon with an original model of life organization, uniting clans of miners, metallurgists, blacksmiths and casters, sometimes from several neighboring archaeological cultures (my italics – N.V.), in particular, the Abashevo culture of the South Urals, some “proto-Srubna” culture of the Southern Urals and quasi-Eneolithic cultures of the Southern Urals and of Northern Kazakhstan.

2. The Sintashta phenomenon as a community of clans of miners – metallurgists – smiths functioned relatively independently, outside or under conditions of partial jurisdiction (?) Of the elites of the above mentioned cultures.

3. At the historical level, the facts presented by the author concerning both funeral rites and ceramics can be understood as a reflection of the characteristics, first of all, of the family-marriage relations system within the specialized communities. And it is not by chance that the ceramics of Sintashta cemeteries carry in themselves often reinterpreted (especially in the case of ornamentation) traces of several cultural traditions. The variety of ceramic complexes of Sintashta monuments and the rethinking, reworking of marker elements of ornament on vessels testify, in the author’s view, about the distinctiveness, the specifics of family relations in Sintashta communities.

Paleoanthropological Data as a Source of Reconstruction of the Process of Social Formation and Social Stratifi cation (based on the Sintashta and Potapovo sites of the Bronze Age), by Kitov et al. Stratum Plus (2018) Nº 2.

Abstract (official, in English):

The paper is devoted to the analysis of craniological materials from the cemeteries of the Bronze Age of the Volga-Ural region (Sintashta and Potapovo assemblages). The characteristic feature of the physical appearance of this population is the combination of different morphological variations with a dominant and the presence of the Uraloid components. At the same time, a group of individuals with a specific, different from other individuals, skull structure is distinguished: maturized, broad-faced men with a set of striking features in the face. Analysis of the funerary rites of these individuals indicates their high social status in the Sintashta-Potapovo society. The addition of such an anthropological complex occurred in the Eneolithic on the territory of modern Kazakhstan as a result of contacts of steppe sharply profiled Europeoid populations and groups of Uraloid origin. This led to the formation of a population, originally of metisic origin, conventionally called “steppe Kazakhstan”, which took part in the process of morphogenesis, and, indirectly, the cultural genesis of Sintashta and Potapovo communities.

While this paper reports mainly athropometric data, the team forms part of the Samara Valley project – including Khokhlov.

Here are interesting excerpts from the general conclusions (translated from Russian):

Summing up, it can be noted that the distinguishing feature of the carriers of the Sintashta and Potapovka traditions is the sharp heterogeneity of the anthropological features, the cause of which were active ethno- and culturogenetic processes in the Volga-Ural region at the turn of the 3rd/2nd millennium BC. One of the active components of these processes was probably a population group with specific craniological data, distinct from the rest of the craniocomplexes. These included mature, broad-leaning male individuals with a set of vivid signs in the structure of the face, such as unfolded and flattened cheekbones, and a strong nose protrusion.

The peculiarities of the burial rite speak about their high social position in the society: burials were made in large central burial pits, accompanied by abundant sacrificial remains in the form of skulls and limbs of horses, large and small cattle, rich funeral complements including bronze tools and weapons, artifacts of metal production, attributes of the chariot complex. It should be noted that such a craniological type is present in every mound of the Sintashta-Potapovka circle of monuments, and is found on the wide territory of the steppes and forest-steppes of the Volga region, the Southern Urals, and the Trans-Urals. The addition of the similar anthropological complex occurred in the Eneolithic due to the contacts, on the one hand, of steppe sharply profiled Europoid populations that extended to the east and, on the other hand, encountered groups of uraloid origin, which led to the formation of a population, originally of metisic origin, which can be conditionally called “steppe Kazakhstan”.


Consequences of Damgaard et al. 2018 (III): Proto-Finno-Ugric & Proto-Indo-Iranian in the North Caspian region


The Indo-Iranian – Finno-Ugric connection

On the linguistic aspect, this is what the Copenhagen group had to say (in the linguistic supplement) based on Kuz’mina (2001):

(…) a northern connection is suggested by contacts between the Indo-Iranian and the Finno-Ugric languages. Speakers of the Finno-Ugric family, whose antecedent is commonly sought in the vicinity of the Ural Mountains, followed an east-to-west trajectory through the forest zone north and directly adjacent to the steppes, producing languages across to the Baltic Sea. In the languages that split off along this trajectory, loanwords from various stages in the development of the Indo-Iranian languages can be distinguished: 1) Pre-Proto-Indo-Iranian (Proto-Finno-Ugric *kekrä (cycle), *kesträ (spindle), and *-teksä (ten) are borrowed from early preforms of Sanskrit cakrá- (wheel, cycle), cattra- (spindle), and daśa- (10); Koivulehto 2001), 2) Proto-Indo-Iranian (Proto-Finno-Ugric *śata (one hundred) is borrowed from a form close to Sanskrit śatám (one hundred), 3) Pre-Proto-Indo-Aryan (Proto-Finno-Ugric *ora (awl), *reśmä (rope), and *ant- (young grass) are borrowed from preforms of Sanskrit ā́rā- (awl), raśmí- (rein), and ándhas- (grass); Koivulehto 2001: 250; Lubotsky 2001: 308), and 4) loanwords from later stages of Iranian (Koivulehto 2001; Korenchy 1972). The period of prehistoric language contact with Finno-Ugric thus covers the entire evolution of Pre-Proto-Indo-Iranian into Proto-Indo-Iranian, as well as the dissolution of the latter into Proto-Indo- Aryan and Proto-Iranian. As such, it situates the prehistoric location of the Indo-Iranian branch around the southern Urals (Kuz’mina 2001).

NOTE. While I agree with the evident ancestral nature of the *kekrä borrowing, I will repeat it here again: I don’t believe that the distinction of late Proto-Indo-Iranian from ‘Pre-Proto-Indo-Aryan’ loans is warranted; not for words reconstructed from recent Finno-Ugric languages.

The time and place for Finno-Ugric and Indo-Iranian contacts. Late Copper Age migrations in Asia ca. 2800-2300 BC.

In this period of a Pre-Proto-Indo-Iranian community, which is to be associated with East Yamna/Poltavka, ca. 3000-2400 BC – as accepted in the supplement from de Barros Damgaard et al. (Nature 2018) – , both Poltavka and Abashevo/Balanovo herders were expanding ca. 2800-2600 BC to the east (and Abashevo already admixing into Poltavka territory), near the southern Urals.

There is no other, clearer, later connection between Finno-Ugric and Proto-Indo-Iranian speakers. Even the arrival of the Seima-Turbino phenomenon (after ca. 2000 BC), if it brought migrants to North-East Europe, would not fit the linguistic, archaeological, or genetic data. It is by now quite clear that Seima-Turbino does not fit with incoming N1c1 lineages and/or Siberian ancestry, either, for those looking for these as potential signs of incoming Uralic speakers.

While the Copenhagen group did not have access to data from Sintashta ca. 2100 BC onwards – now available in Narasimhan et al. (2018) – when submitting the papers, we already know that there was a clear long period of slow progressive admixture in the North Caspian region. It can be seen in the genetic contribution of Yamna to incoming Abashevo groups, and in the R1b-L23 samples still appearing in Sintashta until ca. 1800 BC (as I predicted could happen).

Since the first sample signalling incoming Abashevo migrants is found in the Poltavka outlier dated ca. 2700 BC (of R1a-Z93 lineage), this represents a rather unique, several centuries long process of admixture in the North Caspian region, different from the massive Afanasevo or Bell Beaker migrations in Asia and Europe, whereby a great part of the native male population was suddenly replaced.

This offers further support for language continuity despite genetic replacement in the development of East Yamna/Poltavka (part of the Steppe EMBA cline, formed by Yamna and Afanasevo) mixing with Abashevo migrants (probably identical to Corded Ware samples) to form Potapovka, Sintashta, and later Srubna, and Andronovo communities (all forming, with Corded Ware groups, a wide Eurasian Steppe MLBA cloud). See the available data from Narasimhan et al. (2018).

Image modified from Narasimhan et al. (2018), including the most likely proto-language identification of different groups. Original description “Modeling results including Admixture events, with clines or 2-way mixtures shown in rectangles, and clouds or 3-way mixtures shown in ellipses”. See the original full image here.

The continuous interactions and migrations left thus eventually two communities in the southern Urals genetically similar, but ethnolinguistically diverse:

  • To the north, Abashevo-Balanovo – but potentially also Fatyanovo, and related North-East European late Corded Ware groups – borrowed necessary words from Indo-Iranian neighbours, while maintaining their Finno-Ugric language and culture.
  • To the south, immigrants (or their descendants) of Abashevo origin expanding among Pre-Proto-Indo-Iranian-speaking North Caspian communities assimilated the surrounding culture and language, giving it their own accent (i.e. ‘satemizing’ it) and turning it into Proto-Indo-Iranian (see e.g. Parpola’s account).

Anthropologically, this ‘long-term founder effect’ that appears as genetic replacement is probably explained by the faster life history in MLBA North Caspian populations, likely due to a combination of changing environmental and social circumstances.

NOTE. The prevalent explanation before the latest studies on the Sintashta society were social strife and isolation of small groups, an argument I used in my demic diffusion model. Other, similar cases of proven linguistic continuity despite genetic replacement are seen in Iberian Bronze Age after the expansion of R1b-L23 lineages (with Vasconic, Iberian, and Tartessian surviving at least until proto-historic times), and in Remote Oceania.

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

Implications for Late PIE migrations

I am happy to see that people are resorting now to dialectal classifications and Y-DNA to explain the findings in Old Hittites, Tocharians (and related migrations), and Indo-Iranians. It is especially interesting to see precisely this Danish group downplay the relevance of ancestry and favor complex anthropological models when assessing migrations and ethnolinguistic identification.

So let’s talk about the growing elephant in the room.

It seems we all accept now Tocharian’s more archaic Late PIE nature, which is supported by waves of late Khvalynsk migrants starting probably ca. 3300 BC, as seen in different samples to the east in Central Asia, and to the south in Iran. Almost all of them share R1b-L23 lineages.

NOTE. Whereas their early LPIE dialects have not survived to historic times, the rather speculative hypotheses of Euphratic and Gutian languages may be of interest.

We also know of the coetaneous migrants that settled to the west of the Don River (in the territory of the previous late Sredni Stog culture), to form the western South-Bug / Lower Don groups, which, together with the Volga-Ural / North Caucasian groups formed the early Yamna culture, that dominated from ca. 3300 BC over the Pontic-Caspian steppe.

It is only logical that the other attested languages belonging to the common Late PIE trunk must come from these groups, which must have stuck together for quite some time – after the recently proven late Khvalynsk migrations – , to allow for the spread of isoglosses (not found in Tocharian) among them.

This is agreed, even by the Copenhagen group, who expressly state that Yamna is to be identified with the rest of Late PIE languages after the Tocharian-related migrations.

Early Yamna community and its migrations ca. 3000 BC onwards.

The period of an early Yamna community constrained to the Pontic-Caspian steppe (ca. 3300-3000 BC) is followed by renewed waves of Late Proto-Indo-European migrations, during which areal contacts and innovations (even between unrelated LPIE branches) can still be reconstructed.

These later migrations can be precisely described as follows (after the latest studies):

  • Yamna migrants, of mixed R1b-L51 and R1b-Z2103 lineages, settle ca. 3000-2600 BC along the lower Danube, in the Balkans and the Carpathian basin, giving rise later to groups of:
  • In the Pontic-Caspian steppe, early Yamna groups evolve into (from west to east) Late Yamna, Catacomb, and Poltavka groups, ca. 2800-2300 BC, all still dominated by R1b-L23 lineages (see discussion on the Catacomb sample), with:
    • Poltavka peoples admixing with Abashevo migrants to form admixed Potapovka and Sintashta-Petrovka groups, showing still after ca. 1800 BC a mixed society of R1a-Z93 and R1b-Z2103 lineages (see Narasimhan et al. 2018);
      • Expanding early Proto-Iranian and Proto-Indo-Aryan groups in Srubna (to the west) and Andronovo (to the east), during the first half of the 2nd millennium BC, dominate over the Bronze Age steppe and Central Asia with expanding R1a-Z93 lineages.


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

1) East Bell Beakers clearly dominated culturally and genetically over almost all of Europe, ca. 2500-2000 BC, including previous Corded Ware territory, representing thus the most recent massive migration of steppe peoples in Europe, and being the only pan-European culture derived from Late Proto-Indo-European-speaking Yamna. They must therefore be identified with North-West Indo-European speakers, as proposed by Mallory (2013), and not just Italo-Celtic (as supported recently by the Danish school, based on Gimbutas’ outdated model):

1.A) For Germanic, we already have proof that an appropriate, unitary Scandinavian society, ripe for the development of a common Pre-Germanic language (that expanded much later, during the Iron Age, as Proto-Germanic) could have developed only after the arrival of Bell Beakers (see Prescott 2017). The association of proto-historic Germanic tribes mainly with the expansion of R1b-U106 lineages bears witness to that.

NOTE. Even without taking into account the likely L51 samples from Khvalynsk, it is by now quite clear that R1b-L51 lineages were already admixed in Yamna settlers from the Carpathian Basin, and any subclade of U106, L21, DF27, or U152 can thus be found everywhere in Europe associated with any of those North-West Indo-European migrations. What we are seing later, as in the East Bell Beaker migrants arriving in the British Isles (L21), Iberia (DF27), or the Netherlands/Scandinavia (U106), is the further reduction in variability coupled with the expansion of a few sucessful families (and their lineages), as we know it usually happens during migrations.

1.B) For Balto-Slavic, it seems they were not part of the eastern Corded Ware peoples: the Copenhagen group denies an Indo-Slavonic group in the Nature paper, referring instead to a dominion of early Iranians in the steppes, following their traces to proto-historic and historic Iranian-speaking peoples. And we knew already that Bell Beakers dominated over Central-East Europe, before the resurge of R1a-Z645 lineages in the region, which is compatible with the North-West Indo-European nature of their language undergoing a satemization process similar (but not equal to) to the Indo-Iranian one (see the full discussion on Balto-Slavic here).

NOTE. The few ancestral traits common to Germanic and Balto-Slavic are today considered a common substrate language to both, and not due to close contacts (and still less a common branch, as was proposed in the 1st half of the 20th c.). You can read e.g. Kortlandt’s Baltic, Slavic, Germanic (2017), or our Corded Ware substrate hypothesis (2017). In both theories, the referenced substrate is likely a non-Indo-European language, and in both cases it is related to the Corded Ware culture, which represents their most common immediate ancestral population before the spread of Bell Beakers.

2) The late Corded Ware groups of Finland and Estonia, as well as Fatyanovo and Abashevo (and succeeding groups of Eastern Europe) may now be more clearly associated with Proto-Finno-Ugric dialects, and thus probably Corded Ware groups in general with Uralic languages, whose western branches have not survived to this day, with their culture and language being replaced quite early by expanding Bell Beakers.

NOTE. While the demise of Central and Central-East European CWC groups is evident, continuous contacts among Battle Axe culture groups in Scandinavia and the Gulf of Finland through the Baltic Sea – and the strong Bronze Age Palaeo-Germanic influence on Finnic languages (stronger than earlier Indo-Iranian borrowings) may point to the continuity of Proto-Finnic in Northern Scandinavia, which may force a reinterpretation of the prehistoric location of Proto-Finnic-speaking groups.

Those supporting a Corded Ware expansion of Germanic or Balto-Slavic with R1a subclades, now rejecting the expansion of Proto-Indo-European from an Anatolian homeland (following the spread of Neolithic farmer ancestry), and negating the close Proto-Indo-Iranian – Uralic contacts, are willfully ignoring linguistic, archaeological, and genetic data whenever it does not fit with their previous theories.

Good times ahead to chase false syllogisms and contradictions everywhere.


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.


North-Eastern Europe in the Stone Age – bridging the gap between the East and the West


Interesting PhD thesis The Stone Age of north-eastern Europe 5500–1800 calBC : bridging the gap between the East and the West by Kerkko Nordqvist (2018).

Some interesting excerpts:

On the Corded Ware and related cultures

The arrival of Corded Ware is without a doubt the clearest example of migration recognized in Finnish Stone Age archaeology. Its appearance has been understood to result from the movement of a new population from the southern or southeastern Baltic Sea area to the southern and western coasts of Finland (Europaeus 1922: 137; Luho 1948: 57; Edgren 1970: 62; Matiskainen 1994: 14) (Fig. 36). Native inhabitants of the coastal region — presented as representatives of Comb Ware population — have rarely been given any larger role in this development (Luoto 1986: 19; Asplund 1995: 74; see also Article III), and their fate has usually been described as displacement, assimilation or some kind of co-existence (Äyräpää 1952a: 24–25; Edgren 1997: 169–171; Carpelan 1999: 263–264; Núñez 2004: 362).

Another important part of the Finnish narrative is the distance that the Corded Ware population assumedly kept, not only from the (Pöljä Ware-producing) hunter-gatherers inhabiting the Finnish inland, but also from the other Corded Ware groups in the northern Baltic Sea area (Edgren 1970: 61; Äyräpää 1973: 199, 207; Carpelan 1999: 266).56 The image of Finnish Corded Ware is static: it is seen to exist in the area of present-day Finland facing little change for centuries (Edgren 1992: 96; see also Luoto 1986: 17; Matiskainen 1994). However, the archaic nature assigned to Corded Ware derives greatly from the out-dated idea of pan-European A-horizon, unrealistic dating given for the phenomenon, as well as an overly narrow view of cultural dynamics concerning what can be accepted as Corded Ware (cf. Furholt 2014; Article III).

The only larger change has been connected to the so-called 2nd wave of Corded Ware, supposedly reaching Finnish coasts from Estonia towards the end of Corded Ware’s existence. However, this event has never really been substantiated, and in Finnish assemblages it seems to materialize only through the so-called sharp-butted axes (see Soikkeli 1912; Äyräpää 1952b: 89–90) (Fig. 37) — pottery related to the 2nd wave has never been presented, although its influences are recognized in later pottery types (Carpelan 1979: 15; Carpelan et al. 2008: 206; see also Lavento 2001: 24–25). Along the northern limit of Corded Ware, in the so-called Middle Zone, the 2nd wave assumedly contributed to the creation of hybrid pottery, which in the earlier research has been vaguely called Middle or Intermediate Zone Ceramics (Carpelan 1979: 15; 2004b: 52). More recently it has been proposed that such mixing of influences and hybridization would have started immediately or soon after the arrival of Corded Ware at least on the south-eastern coast and the Karelian Isthmus, and influences would have been transmitted towards the inland and the middle-zone, too (see Mökkönen 2011: 62–63; Article III; see also Carpelan 1999: 262).

Distribution of the so-called Middle and Late Neolithic asbestos- and organictempered wares. Organic admixtures were commonly used in wide regions to the east and south-east of the research area during this time as well, but asbestos-tempered pottery has only occasionally been reported from areas further east of Lake Onega, the Vologda and Arkhangelsk Oblasts (see Ошибкина 1978; Козырева 1983; Жульников 2007). Illustration: K. Nordqvist.

On assumed early Corded Ware materials in North-East Europe

The emergence of Corded Ware was previously dated in Finland as early as 3200 calBC (Edgren 1992: 92; Matiskainen 1994: 14; Carpelan 2004b: 48–49). The age was based on a few conventional dates from mixed contexts, and has been lately readjusted to around 2900–2800 calBC (Mökkönen 2011: 17–18; Article III). This has not only moved the dating closer to the initial dates given to Corded Ware in Europe (Włodarczak 2009), but also changed the cultural context into which Corded Ware may have arrived in north-eastern Europe. The old dating permitted the assumption of a temporal overlap with Typical/Late Comb Ware (see Edgren 1970: 59–60; see also Carpelan 1999: 262) — with regards to the new dating, even if the Comb Ware tradition continued in some form to the 3rd millennium calBC, it is really not known how the coastal societies transformed and what they looked like during this time. All in all, only a few sites have been securely dated to the 3200–2800 calBC period, which makes estimating all the mechanisms through which Corded Ware was established quite complicated.

Most Corded Ware materials derive from mixed, multi-period settlement contexts, which explain the generally limited knowledge about Corded Ware assemblages. Pottery is the most commonly identified element, although its study has been heavily concentrated on beakers and beaker-like cups: apart from so-called short-wave moulded vessels, household pottery is not much recognized (Edgren 1970: 25–26; see Nordqvist & Häkälä 2014: 18–19). Furthermore, apart from individual remarks, organic tempers have been excluded from the Corded Ware technological repertoire in Finland (Edgren 1970: 33; Korkeakoski- Väisänen 1993: 15) — as shown in Article III, organic-tempered Corded Ware is present at least on the Finnish southern coast and the Karelian Isthmus, and has been reported from Southern Ostrobothnia as well. Organic-tempered pottery found in southern Finland is similar to the so-called Estonian (or Late) Corded Ware, which is thought to be the result of local development (Янитс 1959: 166; Kriiska 2000: 75; see also Kholkina 2017: 155) (Fig. 38). Even preliminary mapping of such pottery (Finnish data is still based on non-systematic survey) shows that an interaction sphere existed in the eastern Gulf of Finland area, reaching from Estonia to the areas of present-day Finland and the Karelian Isthmus in Russia (Article III) (Fig. 36). Sharp-butted axes fit well into this context: rather than being an indication of some ambivalent and unidirectional 2nd wave of influence, they provide better evidence of more continuous contacts across the sea.

The origins and spread of Corded Ware have become highly topical in the last few years with the development of analytical techniques such as genetic and isotopic research (Allentoft et al. 2015; Haak et al. 2015; Sjögren et al. 2016; Kristiansen et al. 2017). Generally, archaeogenetic studies have evidenced large population replacements in Europe, and seem to provide solid support for migration — still, numerous problems related to representativity and interpretation of the data remain to be solved (see Vander Linden 2016; Heyd 2017; Ion 2017). No material is available for such studies from the research area, as no bones have been preserved in the excavated burials. The closest analysed and published individuals from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania (Allentoft et al. 2015; Jones et al. 2017; Mittnik et al. 2018; Saag et al. 2017) show that the development of Corded Ware in the Baltic States clearly involved newcomers. At the same time, archaeological materials from north-eastern Europe also indicate the input and presence of indigenous people — settling this discrepancy between different source materials is an important task for future research.

On modern political borders and preconceptions defining archaeological cultures

The results presented above illustrate how the modern political borders may appear to be present in the past. For Finnish prehistory they mean also that instead of one ‘Finnish’ group, there are several Corded Ware populations operational within the present-day state. Recent geochemical analyses of clay pastes and grog tempers of Corded Ware have pointed towards the existence of different pottery recipes in different parts of Finland, as well as towards connections and movement across the northern Baltic Sea area (Holmqvist et al. 2018).

The area of Battle Axe/Corded Ware cultures (shaded), with the traditional limit of Finnish Corded Ware shown as a solid line. The distribution of organic-tempered (Estonian) Corded Ware is marked with a dashed line, while the so-called Middle Zone is indicated roughly by hatching. Illustration: K. Nordqvist.

In the present-day Russian territory, a Corded Ware presence has been recognized on the Karelian Isthmus (Крайнов 1987b: 61, Карта 6). In Finnish archaeology this area has been mostly considered a periphery of Finnish Corded Ware (Äyräpää 1952a: 22–23; 1973: 207; Meinander 1954a: 151–152; Huurre 2003: 236; Carpelan et al. 2008: 206), but the identification of organic-tempered Cored Ware in areas north of the Gulf (as well as mapping of all stray finds; Nordqvist & Häkälä 2014; Article III) shows that a Corded Ware presence on the Isthmus was stronger than thought. In other words, the normative perception of culture and strong presuppositions of what Corded Ware should be has led to the exclusion of part of the material culturethe Karelian Isthmus was not just a subsidiary area of Finnish Corded Ware, but a region with its own character and tradition.

No Corded Ware pottery finds have been reported in the areas north of Lake Ladoga. The solitary Corded Ware influences noted in simultaneous Karelian pottery have been connected with the central Russian Fatyanovo culture (Жульников 1999: 53–54; 2008: 419). Because the Fatyanovo territory extends close to the research area in the east and south-east (see Крайнов 1987b: 61, Карта 6; see also Жульников 2008: 417, Рис. 3), it is not surprising that recent studies have revealed evidence of connections between the eastern Gulf of Finland and central Russian battle axe cultures (Kriiska et al. 2015: 47; Крийска et al. 2015: 201; Article III; see also Kholkina 2017: 154–155).

People prefer ethnolinguistic identification “large and early”

The East has been mostly contextualized through the cultural entity perceived to exist between the Baltic Sea and the Urals, i.e. the ‘Comb Ware cultural sphere’. Its binding elements have been kinship- and exchange-based connections, which would have transmitted influences over this vast area. Karelia, the closest-lying region of the East, has been occasionally mentioned as an important area of influence (Tallgren 1938b; Äyräpää 1944), but generally it has not been given any prominent position in the narratives. In fact, Karelia and much of the Comb Ware sphere gained their insignia and paraphernalia already during the first half of the 20th century, and only fairly petrified stereotypes have been presented in the subsequent literature.

On the arrival of the Metal Ages, influence from Pre-Proto-Germanic, and the reasons for the genetic bottleneck

Periodization-wise the question is straightforward: the Neolithic ends with the onset of the Early Metal Period, the Eneolithic (in Russia) and the Bronze Age (in Finland).

A much larger problem affecting the study of transition has been the general decrease and even lack of archaeological material pertaining to this time. This situation prevails in large areas from the later 3rd millennium calBC onwards and is accentuated during the 2nd millennium calBC. The disappearance of archaeological evidence has been explained by decreasing population numbers which would have been caused by the deteriorating climate (Lavento 2015: 125; see also Sundell 2014). Nevertheless, in the territory of present-day Finland the abundant number of burial cairns (see Meinander 1954b: 89–120; Saipio 2011) as well as pollen analyses showing anthropogenic activities dating to this time (see Alenius et al. 2009; Augustson et al. 2013) indicate that no complete depopulation took place. Therefore, in addition to sparse habitation, the change must be explained also through changing ways of living and material cultures, which make the material remains more difficult to identify archaeologically (also Lavento 2015: 125, 132).

The changes taking place during this time seem to be connected to external influences. On the coast, the Kiukainen culture is thought to have transformed under Scandinavian influences into the so-called Western Bronze Age, exhibiting changes in their settlements, material culture, means of subsistence and their world view (Meinander 1954b: 196–197; Lavento 2015: 198–199). Development further east, in the areas previously occupied by populations producing asbestos and organic-tempered wares, is characterized by the appearance of so-called Textile Ware, apparently introduced there by a new population originating from the south-east and ultimately from the Volga region (Meinander 1954b; Гурина 1961; Косменко 1992; Lavento 2001). Even though it is not clear what the relationships between the carriers of this new tradition and the local populations were (did the latter perish, assimilate, or coexist?), it is evident that changes took place in all fields of life — and the traditional image of an archaic, static inland is not considered correct anymore (see Saipio 2008; Lavento 2015). However, this does not imply one synchronous or abrupt change or a complete turnover but, for example, traditional forms of subsistence held their ground alongside (slash and burn) agriculture for centuries, even millennia to come.

All in all, a complex account of events in North-East Europe that will define the ethnolinguistic identification of Corded Ware migrants.


On Proto-Finnic language guesstimates, and its western homeland

Recent chapter The Indo-Europeans and the Non-Indo-Europeans in Prehistoric Northern Europe, by Petri Kallio, In: Language and Prehistory of the Indo- European Peoples: A Cross-Disciplinary Perspective, Copenhagen (2017).

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine), especially when read in combination with the most recent papers on Early Indo-Iranian, Corded Ware, and Fennoscandian genomes:

Like the Indo-Europeanists, also the Uralicists suffer from their “school who wants it large and wants it early”. This time, however, the desired homeland is even larger and earlier, covering the whole northern half of Europe already at the end of the Ice Age (Wiik 2002). As a Finn, admittedly, I find such an idea very flattering indeed. As a historical linguist, however, I also find it absurd for the same reasons which I already gave above in the case of the Indo-Europeans.

True, linguistic palaeontology is less helpful in the case of the Uralians, even though especially Common Uralic *pata ‘clay pot’ and *wäśkä ‘copper’ indicate that Proto-Uralic was not spoken before the Subneolithic period, which in the East-Baltic area is dated about 5300–3200 BC. However, the most valuable evidence comes from the earliest Indo-European loanwords in the Uralic languages, which show that Proto-Uralic cannot have been spoken much earlier than Proto-Indo-European dated about 3500 BC (Koivulehto 2001: 235, 257).

As the same loanword evidence naturally also shows that the Uralic and Indo-European homelands were not located far from one another, the Uralic homeland can most likely be located in the Middle and Upper Volga region, right north of the Indo-European homeland*. From the beginning of the Subneolithic period about 5900 BC onwards, this region was an important innovation centre, from where several cultural waves spread to the Finnish Gulf area, such as the Sperrings Ware wave about 4900 BC, the Combed Ware wave about 3900 BC, and the Netted Ware wave about 1900 BC (Carpelan & Parpola 2001: 78–90).

* Interestingly, the only Uralicists who generally reject the Central Russian homeland are the Russian ones who prefer the Siberian homeland instead. Some Russians even advocate that the Central Russian homeland is only due to Finnish nationalism or, as one of them put it a bit more tactfully, “the political and ideological situation in Finland in the first decades of the 20th century” (Napolskikh 1995: 4). Still, some Finns (and especially those who also belong to the “school who wants it large and wants it early”) simultaneously advocate that exactly the same Central Russian homeland is due to Finnlandisierung (Wiik 2001: 466). Fortunately, I do not even need to resort to playing the politics card myself, because there is enough convincing evidence for the Central Russian homeland anyway.

Remarkably, the loanword evidence furthermore suggests that the ancestors of Finnic and Saamic had at least phonologically remained very close to Proto-Uralic as late as the Bronze Age (ca. 1700–500 BC). In particular, certain loanwords, whose Baltic and Germanic sources point to the first millennium BC, after all go back to the Finno-Saamic proto-stage, which is phonologically almost identical to the Uralic proto-stage (see especially the table in Sammallahti 1998: 198–202). This being the case, Dahl’s wave model could perhaps have some use in Uralic linguistics, too.

Even though Bronze-Age Finnic and Saamic were still two dialects rather than two languages, it does not mean that they would still have been spoken in a geographically limited area. On the contrary, their Indo-European loanwords dating to this period indicate that their speech areas were already geographically separate. The fact that at that time both Baltic and Germanic influenced Finnic much more strongly than Saamic must be considered a crucial piece of information when we are trying to locate the Finnic and Saamic homelands.

Iron Age migrations in Europe.

(…)the fact that Palaeo-Germanic loanwords are much more numerous in Finnic than in Saamic must lead to the same conclusion. As I noted above, the most likely Palaeo-Germanic speaking carriers of the Nordic Bronze culture (ca. 1700–500 BC) spread from Scandinavia to the Finnish and Estonian coastal areas. As they never spread any further to the east than as far as the bottom of the Finnish Gulf, the idea that the Finnic homeland included neither Finland nor Estonia completely fails to explain the very existence of Palaeo-Germanic loanwords, whose quantity and quality in Finnic presuppose a superstrate rather than an adstrate.

(…) as the Nordic Bronze culture influenced coastal Finland much more strongly than it did coastal Estonia, the idea that the Finnic homeland did not include Finland but Estonia alone similarly fails to explain the very strength of the Bronze-Age Palaeo-Germanic superstrate in Finnic, which can indeed be compared with the Medieval French superstrate in English, for instance (Kallio 2000: 96–97). From a Germanicist point of view, therefore, Itkonen’s theory concerning the Finnic homeland does not only seem to be the best but also the only alternative (Koivulehto 1984: 198–200).

As the same can now also be said about the Indo-Europeanization of the Baltic speech area, the fact that Baltic and Finnic are the most conservative branches of their language families and that they have relatively few substrate words may really be due to exactly the same reason, namely that before their arrival the East-Baltic region was still very sparsely populated by Subneolithic hunter-fisher-gatherers, whose linguistic influence on the newcomers was therefore rather limited. On the other hand, as these language shifts already took place millennia ago, there has been a lot of time for the Baltic and Finnic speakers to replace most of their old substrate words by all kinds of new lexical innovations.

Speaking of loanword evidence, the Aikios and especially Saarikivi (2004b) have furthermore argued that the Indo-Iranian loanwords occurring in Finnic and/or Saamic alone force us to locate the Finnic and Saamic homelands further to the east (e.g. near the White Lake). Still, I fail to see why the Indo-Iranian loanwords counted in dozens should be more relevant in locating these two homelands than the Germanic loanwords counted in hundreds. Besides, the Indo-Iranian loanwords mainly consist of cultural borrowings which do not necessarily presuppose a superstrate but only an adstrate. Moreover, they must be dated so much earlier than Vedic Sanskrit (ca. 1500–1000 BC) and Gathic Avestan (ca. 1000–800 BC) anyway that their spread can very well be connected with the abovementioned Netted Ware wave about 1900 BC.

An interesting read, where the author expressly refers to the many political (nationalist) and xenophobic overtones (including his own) that arise in ethnolinguistic identifications of prehistoric cultures.

We are seeing how the newest dialectalisation trends want it ‘late and small’, and ‘late’ corresponds smoothly with the most recent genomic findings involving Chalcolithic and Bronze Age expansions.

In the Uralic case, in North-Eastern Europe only Corded Ware migrants are known to have expanded within a suitable time frame into the region, and their patrilineal descendants show a widespread distribution in the region during the Bronze Age.

Also, if Proto-Finnic is coeval with Pre-Proto-Germanic, and expanded from the western part of North-East Europe (necessarily including the Gulf of Finland), well… You know the drill.

Of course, regarding Proto-Indo-European and Uralic, there are also a lot of people who still want itlarge and early‘ – and the most recent research won’t deter them from such proposals.