Human sacrifice as means of social control and power display in Upper Mesopotamia (early 3rd mill. BC)


Radical ‘royals’? Burial practices at Başur Höyük and the emergence of early states in Mesopotamia, by Hasset and Sağlamtimur, Antiquity (2018) 92:640-654.

Interesting excerpts:

The discovery of sacrificial burials attending a ‘royal’ burial in a cist tomb at Early Bronze Age Arslantepe in Anatolia (Frangipane 2006; Erdal 2012) has dramatically broadened the known range of social responses to the political upheaval of the early third millennium BC. Following the longstanding interpretation of human sacrifice at the Royal Cemetery of Ur just a few hundred years later (Woolley 1934), this raises new questions about the role of human sacrifice in processes of early state formation (Sürenhagen 2002; Croucher 2012). Power over the physical bodies of a population to the point of death has been associated with the hierarchical social structures that accompanied early state-formation processes across the globe (Watts et al. 2016). There is, however, considerable variation in the practice. Sacrifice can be employed variously to achieve spiritual, ritual, political, martial or even economic ends (see Bremmer 2007; Turchin 2016), and the role of human sacrifice in ancient Near Eastern burial practices remains unclear (Porter & Schwartz 2012).

“The mound site of Ba¸sur Höyük, with the archaeological plan of the Early Bronze Age cemetery. Graves are outlined in red, Uruk-period architecture in black. Each grid square is 10 × 10m.”

Wengrow draws an interesting distinction between “sacrificial” and “archival” ritual economies, using metal finds from the much wider context of the Eurasian Bronze Age (Wengrow 2011: 137). For Wengrow, the ‘sacrificial’ deposit of metal work, particularly in burial contexts, indicates a system of metal exchange that is most frequently found on the edges of more complex, centrally administrated urban exchange systems. Metalwork serves here to consolidate and display personal wealth rather than as a standardised commodity for equitable exchange. Wilkinson has highlighted the role of shifting economic modes in marking social change, observing such a transition in ritual-economic systems in the Early Bronze Age Trans-Caucasian sphere of influence that stretched from Anatolia to Iran (Wilkinson 2014). The bronze objects buried at Başur Höyük fall into a pattern of ritual deposits that clearly mark Early Bronze Age funerary rituals as locations for the communication of wealth and status (Săglamtimur & Massimino 2015). The importance of that display is not diminished by the presence of administrative artefacts such as the cylinder seals and ceramics marked with seal impressions that were also found inside the cist tomb. The material culture of the Early Bronze Age cemetery at Başur Höyük demonstrates connections to the Anatolian world, with clear Trans-Caucasian links similar to those found along the Euphrates, and also to the southern, urban networks of the Mesopotamian core.

The utility of such sacrificial gestures waned as other means of social control and power display were brought to bear by an administrated, ‘archival’ economy that did not require the sacrifice of its human subjects.(…) In the vacuum of political centralisation that followed the withdrawal of Uruk material culture in the Mesopotamian sphere, we see precisely the instability among smaller polities that would be expected to underlie the introduction of human sacrifice. In the vast administrative state systems that rose up in southern Mesopotamia in the next millennium, it disappears again from the archaeological record and it is not unreasonable to see in this pattern an implication for the value and economy of human life during the formation of early states.

Ebla’ first kingdom at its height c. 2340 BC. Hipothetical location of Armi depicted. The first Eblaite kingdom extended from Urshu in the north,1 to Damascus area in the south.2 And from Phoenicia and the coastal mountains in the west,3 4 to Tuttul,5 and Haddu in the east.6 The eastern kingdom of Nagar controlled most of the Khabur basin from the river junction with the Euphrates to the northwestern part at Nabada.7 Page 101. From Wikipedia.

Given the potential Anatolian names in Armi inscriptions (ca. 2500-2300 BC), this crucial period of political upheaval after the fall of Uruk-period Mesopotamian interregional networks and before the rise of new state system, i.e. in the early third millennium BC, is probably to be identified with the arrival of Anatolian speakers from the west.

Similar to the Early Indo-Aryan elites ruling over Hurrian-speaking Mitanni, it is possible that some Anatolian-speaking groups imposed their rule as elites (and thus their language) after this period of instability – at least in certain regions, as is obvious from the multilingualism and multiethnic situation found in the Old Assyrian tablets of Kaneš.


On the Maykop – Upper Mesopotamia cultural province, distinct from the steppe


New paper (behind paywall) The Production of Thin‐Walled Jointless Gold Beads from the Maykop Culture Megalithic Tomb of the Early Bronze Age at Tsarskaya in the North Caucasus: Results of Analytical and Experimental Research, by Trifonov et al. Archaeometry (2018)

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

In 1898, two megalithic tombs containing graves of a local social elite dated to the Early Bronze Age were discovered by N. I. Veselovsky near the village of Tsarskaya (modern Novosvobodnaya, Republic of Adygeya) (Fig. 1 (a)) (Baye 1900, 43–59; IAC 1901, 33–8; Sagona 2018, 281–97).

Radiocarbon dates place both tombs within the Novosvobodnaya phase of the Maykop culture, between c. 3200 and 2900 BC (Trifonov et al. 2017). Along with the human remains (one adult individual was interred in each dolmen), the tombs yielded rich funerary offerings, including artefacts made of gold, silver and semi-precious stones. (…) This paper presents results of a technical analysis of just one type of artefact, from kurgan 2 at Tsarskaya: thin-walled jointless beads made from gold.

(a) A map of the Caucasus and part of Western Asia, showing the locations of sites mentioned in the text: 1, Tsarskaya (modern Novosvobodnaya); 2, Maykop; 3, Staromyshastovskaya; 4, Andryukovskaya; 5, Psebaiskaya; 6, Inozemtsevo; 7, Kudakhurt; 8, Soyuq Bulaq; 9, Sé Girdan; 10, Tepe Gawra. (b) The string of thin-walled jointless gold beads, silver and carnelian beads from the dolmen in kurgan 2 at Tsarskaya, Western Caucasus (1898).

Ever since M. I. Rostovtzeff noted a stylistic similarity between Maykop art and Sumerian art (Rostovtzeff 1920) and M. V. Andreeva described this phenomenon within a broad cultural and chronological context (Andreeva 1977), new archaeological studies have only extended this picture of a vast cultural province that appeared between the Caucasus and the northern fringe of Western Asia (Trifonov 1987). The discovery of the Leyla-Tepe culture (Narimanov 1987) and Maykop-type kurgans in Azerbaijan (Lyonnet et al. 2008) and adjacent Iran (Muscarella 1969, 1971, 2003; Trifonov 2000) has confirmed the spatial and temporal unity of this phenomenon as a precondition for free circulation of cultural patterns and technical innovations across vast areas of the Caucasus and Western Asia. Jewellery made of gemstones and precious metals, primarily gold, was probably one such innovation.

Attempts to demarcate the historical region where the Maykop culture emerged and developed have emphasized the role of Upper Mesopotamia in the development of the Sumerian civilization and the definition of a northern centre of urbanization, independent from the centres of the south (Rothman 2002; Oats et al. 2007). The turn of the fourth millennium BC saw the development of various cultural traditions in south-east Anatolia, north-east Syria and north-west Iran; on the northern fringe, these traditions manifested themselves through the Maykop culture. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the first high-status burials containing gold and gemstone jewellery (including carnelian, turquoise and lapis lazuli) appear in these northern, rather than southern, centres in the first quarter of 4000 BC (e.g., Tepe Gawra, graves 109, 110) (Piasnall 2002). With regard to funeral rites and stylistic characteristics of jewellery pieces, these graves have many parallels with early Maykop burials (Munchaev 1975, 329; Trifonov 1987, 20).

It still remains unclear if the goldsmiths of Upper Mesopotamia mastered the technique of making thin-walled jointless beads. The gold beads from Tepe Gawra are described as spherical or ball-shaped, but their maximum diameter (5–8mm) always exceeds the length of the bore (3–4mm) (Tobler 1950, 89, 199, pl. LV, a). On the whole, these measurements are consistent with the proportions and sizes of some Maykop beads.(…)

It is quite possible that a distinctive technique of making thin-walled jointless beads from gold was a regional technological development of Maykop culture goldsmiths, within a wider tradition of Near East metalwork, as a type of production regulated by ritual beliefs (Gell 1992; Benzel 2013).

These deep-rooted Near East traditions of ritualization of the production and use of jewellery pieces made of gold, silver and gemstones in the Maykop culture, on the one hand, maintained familiar canons of ritual behaviour and, on the other, made perception of sophisticated symbolism of gemstones more difficult for neighbouring cultures with different living standards, levels of social development and value systems to understand. The jewellery traditions of the Maykop culture had no successors in the Caucasus or the adjacent steppes. In the third millennium BC, the goldsmiths of Europe and Asia had to reinvent the technique of making thin-walled jointless gold beads from scratch (Born et al. 2009).

Also interesting is Holocene environmental history and populating of mountainous Dagestan (Eastern Caucasus, Russia), by Ryabogina et al., Quaternary International (2018).

The combination of Holocene environment changes and the settlement of the territory of Dagestan.

Related excerpts, about the climate of an adjacent region of the Caucasus before, during, and after the Maykop culture:

The 7th millennium BC featured a warm and arid climate, so that time corresponds to the steppe landscapes in the final stage of the Mesolithic. It is likely that the formation of a producing economy in the mountainous zone of Dagestan gradually emerged against this background. In the Neolithic period, the area remained almost treeless, as it was still warm and quite dry. However, archaeological data indicates that long-term settlements with well-developed farming spread in the mountainous zone around 6200-5500 BC.

The beginning of increasing humidity and the appearance of deciduous forests corresponds to the early Chalcolithic period of the Eastern Caucasus. It is the most poorly studied period in the history of this region. Covering a time span of 2000 years, this period was the least saturated by archaeological sites. At the start of this period, only the stands of herdsman in the mountain zone are known, dating to the second half of the 6th millennium BC (Gadgiev, 1991). It is still not clear whether the mountains were not settled in such a favorable climatic stage. The uncertainty may be due to the fact that people have chosen other ecological niches, or it could be we simply do not have data due to the insufficient archaeological survey of the territory. It is surprising that the turn to drier climate and the reduction of deciduous forests in the inner mountainous part of Dagestan, the large, long-term settlements like Ginchi emerge with pronounced specialization in agriculture (Fig. 7 panel (2)) (Gadgiev, 1991).

After the dry climate, simultaneously with cooling, the subsequent spread of pine forests coincides with the beginning of expansion of Kura-Araxes culture from the territory of Georgia through Chechnya to the mountainous Dagestan. Debates on the impact of past climate on Kura-Araxes societies in Transcaucasus have a long history (for the comprehensive review see, for example, Connor and Kvavadze, 2014 and references therein). In general, it is clear that after 3000 BC, forest cover in most areas of the Kura-Araxes region in the Transcaucasia reached its maximum extent in the Holocene (Connor and Kvavadze, 2014). However, at the same time lakes in Central Anatolia began to dry out and Caspian Sea levels fell (Roberts et al. 2011; Leroy et al. 2013), and arid conditions were identified in mountainous Dagestan in the 4th millennium. Clearly the regional moisture balance shifted in the Eastern Caucasus only in the late 4th to early 3rd millennium BC (this study). The only available radiocarbon dating of Dagestan confirms that the agricultural settlements of the Early Bronze Age appear not in the middle of the 4th millennium BC, but in the early 3rd millennium BC; that is not earlier than the stage of increasing moistening and the appearance of pine forests.

See also:

Bayesian estimation of partial population continuity by using ancient DNA and spatially explicit simulations


Open access Bayesian estimation of partial population continuity by using ancient DNA and spatially explicit simulations, by Silva et al., Evolutionary Applications (2018).

Abstract (emphasis mine):

The retrieval of ancient DNA from osteological material provides direct evidence of human genetic diversity in the past. Ancient DNA samples are often used to investigate whether there was population continuity in the settlement history of an area. Methods based on the serial coalescent algorithm have been developed to test whether the population continuity hypothesis can be statistically rejected by analysing DNA samples from the same region but of different ages. Rejection of this hypothesis is indicative of a large genetic shift, possibly due to immigration occurring between two sampling times. However, this approach is only able to reject a model of full continuity model (a total absence of genetic input from outside), but admixture between local and immigrant populations may lead to partial continuity. We have recently developed a method to test for population continuity that explicitly considers the spatial and temporal dynamics of populations. Here we extended this approach to estimate the proportion of genetic continuity between two populations, by using ancient genetic samples. We applied our original approach to the question of the Neolithic transition in Central Europe. Our results confirmed the rejection of full continuity, but our approach represents an important step forward by estimating the relative contribution of immigrant farmers and of local hunter‐gatherers to the final Central European Neolithic genetic pool. Furthermore, we show that a substantial proportion of genes brought by the farmers in this region were assimilated from other hunter‐gatherer populations along the way from Anatolia, which was not detectable by previous continuity tests. Our approach is also able to jointly estimate demographic parameters, as we show here by finding both low density and low migration rate for pre‐Neolithic hunter‐gatherers. It provides a useful tool for the analysis of the numerous aDNA datasets that are currently being produced for many different species.

A) Different zones defined for computing proportions of ancestry in Central Europeans 4,500 BP. B) Schematic representation of various population contributions. C) Mean proportions of ancestry from the various PHG zones (A+B+C+D) in Central European populations from zone A at the end of the Neolithic transition 4,500 BP, computed for autosomal and mitochondrial markers.

Relevant excerpts:

Our results are in general accordance with two distinct ancestry components that have previously been detected at the continental scale by Lazaridis, Patterson et al. (2014): the “early European farmer” (EEF), which corresponds here to the NFA from Anatolia (zone C in Figure 3), and the “West European hunter-gatherer” (WHG), which corresponds here to the PHG from zones A and B in Figure 3. Notably, the contribution of an Ancient North Eurasians (ANE) component is not included in our model as we did not consider potential post-Neolithic immigration waves, which could have contributed to the modern European genetic pool, such as the wave that came from the Pontic steppes and was associated with the Yamnaya culture (Haak, Lazaridis et al. 2015). Without considering the ANE ancestry component, our estimate of the autosomal genetic contribution of Early farmers to the gene pool of Central European populations (25%) tends to be lower than the EEF ancestry estimated in most modern Western European populations, but is of the same order than the estimations in modern Estonians and in the ancient Late Neolithic genome “Karsdorf” from Germany (Lazaridis, Patterson et al. 2014, Haak, Lazaridis et al. 2015). Note that the contribution of hunter-gatherers to Neolithic communities appears to be variable in different regions of Europe (Skoglund, Malmstrom et al. 2012, Brandt, Haak et al. 2013, Lazaridis, Patterson et al. 2014), while we computed an average value for Central Europe. Moreover, we computed the ancestry of the two groups at the end of the Neolithic period while previous studies estimated it in modern times. Finally, previous studies used molecular information to directly estimate admixture proportions, while we use molecular information to estimate the model parameters and, then, we computed the expected genetic contributions of both groups using the best parameters, without using molecular information during this second step. Model assumptions may thus influence the inferences on the relative genetic contribution of both groups. In particular, we made the assumption of a uniform expansion of NFA with constant and similar assimilation of PHG over the whole continent but spatio-temporally heterogeneous environment, variable assimilation rate and long distance dispersal may have played an important role. The effects of those factors should be investigated in future studies.

Copenhagen group: Germanic and Balto-Slavic from Bell Beaker; Indo-Anatolian homeland in the Caucasus


Article of general knowledge in Der Spiegel, Invasion from the Steppe, with comments from Willerslev and Kristiansen, appeared roughly at the same time as the Damgaard et al. Nature (2018) and Science (2018) papers were published.

NOTE. You can read the article (in German) from Kristiansen’s account.

Excerpts translated from German (emphasis mine):

On the Y-DNA data

Particularly striking is the genetic signature from the steppe on the Y chromosome. From this the researchers conclude that the majority of migrants were males. Kristian Kristiansen, chief archaeologist in the Willerslev team, also has an idea of ​​how this could be explained: “Maybe it’s a rite of initiation, as it was spread among the steppe peoples,” he says.

The younger sons of the Yamnaya herders, who were excluded from the succession, had to seek their fortune on their own. As part of a solemn ritual, they threw themselves to wolves’ skins and then swarmed in warlike gangs to buy their own herds by cattle-stealing.


An ally that they seem to have brought from their homeland may also have contributed to the genetic success of the steppe people: Yersinia pestis, the plague bacterium. Its genes were found by researchers from the Max Planck Institute in Jena – and apparently it emerged exactly at the same time as the Yamnaya thrust began.

About the Hittites

(…) And yet now, where Asia and Europe meet geographically, there is no trace of the Yamnaya genes. The wander-loving people from the Pontic-Caspian steppe apparently found neither the way across the Balkans nor through the Caucasus mountains.

Now the researchers are puzzled: How can it be that a language goes on a walk, without the accompanying speakers coming along? Is it possible that the Indo-European seeped into Anatolia, much like the English language spread today without the need for Englishmen?

Archaeologist Kristiansen does not believe it. The researchers would find it hard to reconsider their theories, he says: “Especially the first chapter of the story has to be rewritten.”

He suspects that there was a predecessor of the Yamnaya culture, in which a kind of Proto-Proto-Indo-European was spoken. And he also has a suspicion, where this people could have drifted around: The Caucasus, says Kristiansen, was their homeland. But that remains unproven: “There’s another hole left,” he admits.

Spread of Indo-European languages

About the Botai

The study of [the Botai] genome revealed that it was genetically radically different from the members of the Yamnaya culture. The Botai, it seems, consistently avoided any contact with their neighbors – even though they must have crossed the territory of the Botai on their migratory waves.

Willerslev assumes that the art of keeping horses from the Yamnaya steppe nomads was adopted from these peoples, and then they developed it further. At some point, the Botai could then have itself become doomed by its groundbreaking innovation: While the descendants of the Yamnaya spread over half of Eurasia, the Botai disappeared without leaving a trace.

Even more interesting than the few words that set the Copenhagen group’s views for future papers (such as the expected Maykop samples with EHG ancestry) is the artistic sketch of the Indo-European migrations, probably advised by the group.

A simple map does not mean that all members of the Danish workgroup have changed their view completely, but I would say it is a great improvement over the previous “arrows of migration” (see here), and it is especially important that they show a more realistic picture of ancient migrations to general readers.

NOTE. Especially absurd is the identification of the ‘Celtic’ expansion with the first Bell Beakers in the British Isles (that idea is hold by few, such as Koch and Cunliffe in their “Celtic from the West” series). Also inexact, but not so worrying, are the identification of ‘Germanic’ in Germany/Únětice, or the spread of ‘Baltic’ and ‘Slavic’ directly to East Europe (i.e. I guess Mierzanowice/Nitra -> Trzciniec), which is probably driven by the need to assert a close connection with early Iranians and thus with their satemization trends.

Also, as we know now thanks to Narasimhan et al. (2018), there is no need to support that convoluted west arrow (representing CWC) from West Yamna to Central Europe, and then to East Yamna, since the Proto-Indo-Iranian community – represented by the Steppe MLBA cloud that later expanded Indo-Aryan and Iranian languages – has a more direct connection with the in situ admixture of Poltavka/Abashevo within the Volga-Ural region.

I think we can keep this from the article:

Their results, as well as those of the competition labs at Harvard University and Jena’s Max Planck Institute for the History of Humanity, leave no doubt: Yes, the legendary herdsmen in the Pontic-Caspian steppe really existed. They belonged to the so-called Yamnaya culture, and they spread, as linguists had predicted, in massive migrations towards Central Europe and India – a later triumph for linguists.

This can be added to a recent comment by de Barros Damgaard:

The project has been an extremely enriching and exciting process. We were able to direct many very different academic fields towards a single coherent approach. By asking the right questions, and keeping limitations of the data in mind, contextualizing, nuancing, and keeping dialogues open between scholars of radically different backgrounds and approaches, we have carved out a path for a new field of research. We have already seen too many papers come out in which models produced by geneticists working on their own have been accepted without vital input from other fields, and, at the other extreme, seen archaeologists opposing new studies built on archaeogenetic data, due to a lack of transparency between the fields.

Data on ancient DNA is astonishing for its ability to provide a fine-grained image of early human mobility, but it does stand on the shoulders of decades of work by scholars in other fields, from the time of excavation of human skeletons to interpreting the cultural, linguistic origins of the samples. This is how cold statistics are turned into history.


Consequences of Damgaard et al. 2018 (I): EHG ancestry in Maykop samples, and the potential Anatolian expansion routes


This is part I of two posts on the most recent data concerning the earliest known Indo-European migrations.

Anatolian in Armi

I am reading in forums about “Kroonen’s proposal” of Anatolian in the 3rd millennium. That is false. The Copenhagen group (in particular the authors of the linguistic supplement, Kroonen, Barjamovic, and Peyrot) are merely referencing Archi (2011. “In Search of Armi”. Journal of Cuneiform Studies 63: 5–34) in turn using transcriptions from Bonechi (1990. “Aleppo in età arcaica; a proposito di un’opera recente”. Studi Epigrafici e Linguistici sul Vicino Oriente Antico 7: 15–37.), who asserted the potential Anatolian origin of the terms. This is what Archi had to say about this:

Most of these personal names belong to a name-giving tradition different from that of Ebla; Arra-ti/tulu(m) is attested also at Dulu, a neighbouring city-state (Bonechi 1990b: 22–25).28 We must, therefore, deduce that Armi belonged to a marginal, partially Semitized linguistic area different from the ethno-linguistic region dominated by Ebla. Typical are masculine personal names ending in -a-du: A-la/li-wa-du/da, A-li/lu-wa-du, Ba-mi-a-du, La-wadu, Mi-mi-a-du, Mu-lu-wa-du. This reminds one of the suffix -(a)nda, -(a)ndu, very productive in the Anatolian branch of Indo-European (Laroche 1966: 329). Elements such as ali-, alali-, lawadu-, memi-, mula/i- are attested in Anatolian personal names of the Old Assyrian period (Laroche 1966: 26–27, 106, 118, 120).

Ebla’ first kingdom at its height c. 2340 BC. Hipothetical location of Armi depicted. The first Eblaite kingdom extended from Urshu in the north,1 to Damascus area in the south.2 And from Phoenicia and the coastal mountains in the west,3 4 to Tuttul,5 and Haddu in the east.6 The eastern kingdom of Nagar controlled most of the Khabur basin from the river junction with the Euphrates to the northwestern part at Nabada.7 Page 101. From Wikipedia.

This was used by Archi to speculatively locate the state of Armi, in or near Ebla territory, which could correspond with the region of modern north-western Syria:

The onomastic tradition of Armi, so different from that of Ebla and her allies (§ 5), obliges us to locate this city on the edges of the Semitized area and, thus, necessarily north of the line running through Hassuwan – Ursaum – Irritum – Harran. If Armi were to be found at Banat-Bazi, it would have represented an anomaly within an otherwise homogenous linguistic scenario.34

Taken as a whole, the available information suggests that Armi was a regional state, which enjoyed a privileged relationship with Ebla: the exchange of goods between the two cities was comparable only to that between Ebla and Mari. No other state sent so many people to Ebla, especially merchants, lú-kar. It is only a hypothesis that Armi was the go-between for Ebla and for the areas where silver and copper were extracted.

This proposal is similar to the one used to support Indo-Aryan terminology in Mittanni (ca. 16th-14th c. BC), so the scarce material should not pose a problem to those previously arguing about the ‘oldest’ nature of Indo-Aryan.

NOTE. On the other hand, the theory connecting ‘mariannu‘, a term dated to 1761 BC (referenced also in the linguistic supplement), and put in relation with PIIr. *arya, seems too hypothetical for the moment, although there is a clear expansion of Aryan-related terms in the Middle East that could support one or more relevant eastern migration waves of Indo-Aryans from Asia.

Potential routes of Anatolian migration

Once we have accepted that Anatolian is not Late PIE – and that only needed a study of Anatolian archaisms, not the terminology from Armi – , we can move on to explore the potential routes of expansion.

On the Balkan route

A current sketch of the dots connecting Khvalynsk with Anatolia is as follows.

1—39 — sceptre bearers of the type Giurgiuleşti and Suvorovo; 40—60 — Gumelniţa-Varna-Bolgrad-Aldeni cultural sphere; 61 — Fălciu; 62 — Cainari; 63 — Giurgiuleşti; 64 — Suvorovo; 65 — Casimcea; 66 — Kjulevča; 67 — Reka Devnja; 68 — Drama; 69 — Gonova Mogila; 70 — Reževo.

First, we have the early expansion of Suvorovo chieftains spreading from ca. 4400-4000 BC in the lower Danube region, related to Novodanilovka chiefs of the North Pontic region, and both in turn related to Khvalynsk horse riders (read a a recent detailed post on this question).

Then we have Cernavoda I (ca. 3850-3550 BC), a culture potentially derived from the earlier expansion of Suvorovo chiefs, as shown in cultural similarities with preceding cultures and Yamna, and also in the contacts with the North Pontic steppe cultures (read a a recent detailed post on this question).

We also have proof of genetic inflow from the steppe into populations of cultures near those suggested to be heirs of those dominated by Suvorovo chiefs, from the 5th millennium BC (in Varna I ca. 4630 BC, and Smyadovo ca. 4500 BC, see image below).

If these neighbouring Balkan peoples of ca. 4500 BC are taken as proxies for Proto-Anatolians, then it becomes quite clear why Old Hittite samples dated 3,000 years after this migration event of elite chiefs could show no or almost no ancestry from Europe (for this question, read my revision of Lazaridis’ preprint).

NOTE. A full account of the crisis in the lower Danube, as well as the Suvorovo-Novodanilovka intrusion, is available in Anthony (2007).

Modified image, including PCA and supervised ADMIXTURE data from Mathieson et al. (2018). Blue arrow represents incoming ancestry from Suvorovo chiefs, red line represents distance from the majority of the neighbouring Balkan population in this period studied to date. Northwestern-Anatolian Neolithic (grey), Yamnaya from Samara (yellow), EHG (pink) and WHG (green).

The southern Balkans and Anatolia

The later connection of Cernavoda II-III and related cultures (and potentially Ezero) with Troy, on the other hand, is still blurry. But, even if a massive migration of Common Anatolian is found to happen from the Balkans into Anatolia in the late 4th / beginning of the 3rd millennium, the people responsible for this expansion could show a minimal trace of European ancestry.

A new paper has appeared recently (in Russian), Dubene and Troy: Gold and Prosperity in the Third Millennium Cal. BCE in Eurasia. Stratum Plus, 2 (2018), by L. Nikolova, showing commercial contacts between Troy and cultures from Bulgaria:

Earlier third millennium cal BCE is the period of development of interconnected Early Bronze Age societies in Eurasia, which economic and social structures expressed variants of pre-state political structures, named in the specialized literature tribes and chiefdoms. In this work new arguments will be added to the chiefdom model of third millennium cal BC societies of Yunatsite culture in the Central Balkans from the perspectives of the interrelations between Dubene (south central Bulgaria) and Troy (northwest Turkey) wealth expression.

Possible explanations of the similarity in the wealth expression between Troy and Yunatsite chiefdoms is the direct interaction between the political elite. However, the golden and silver objects in the third millennium cal BCE in the Eastern Mediterranean are most of all an expression of economic wealth. This is the biggest difference between the early state and chiefdoms in the third millennium cal BCE in Eurasia and Africa. The literacy and the wealth expression in the early states was politically centralized, while the absence of literacy and wider distribution of the wealth expression in the chiefdoms of the eastern Mediterranean are indicators, that wider distribution of wealth and the existed stable subsistence layers prevented the formation of states and the need to regulate the political systems through literacy.

The only way to link Common Anatolians to their Proto-Anatolian (linguistic) ancestors would therefore be to study preceding cultures and their expansions, until a proper connecting route is found, as I said recently.

These late commercial contacts in the south-eastern Balkans (Nikolova also offers a simplified presentation of data, in English) are yet another proof of how Common Anatolian languages may have further expanded into Anatolia.

NOTE. One should also take into account the distribution of modern R1b-M269* and L23* subclades (i.e. those not belonging to the most common subclades expanding with Yamna), which seem to peak around the Balkans. While those may just belong to founder effects of populations preceding Suvorovo or related to Yamna migrants, the Balkans is a region known to have retained Y-DNA haplogroup diversity, in contrast with other European regions.

On a purely linguistic aspect, there are strong Hattic and Hurrian influences on Anatolian languages, representing a unique layer that clearly differentiates them from LPIE languages, pointing also to different substrates behind each attested Common Anatolian branch or individual language:

  • Phonetic changes, like the appearance of /f/ and /v/.
  • Split ergativity: Hurrian is ergative, Hattic probably too.
  • Increasing use of enclitic pronoun and particle chains after first stressed word: in Hattic after verb, in Hurrian after nominal forms.
  • Almost obligatory use of clause initial and enclitic connectors: e.g. semantic and syntactic identity of Hattic pala/bala and Hittite nu.

NOTE. For a superficial discussion of this, see e.g. An Indo-European Linguistic Area and its Characteristics: Ancient Anatolia. Areal Diffusion as a Challenge to the Comparative Method?, by Calvert Watkins. You can also search for any of the mentioned shared isoglosses between Middle Eastern languages and Anatolian if you want more details.

On the Caucasus route

It seems that the Danish group is now taking a stance in favour of a Maykop route (from the linguistic supplement):

The period of Proto-Anatolian linguistic unity can now be placed in the 4th millennium BCE and may have been contemporaneous with e.g. the Maykop culture (3700–3000 BCE), which influenced the formation and apparent westward migration of the Yamnaya and maintained commercial and cultural contact with the Anatolian highlands (Kristiansen et al. 2018).

In fact, they have data to support this:

The EHG ancestry detected in individuals associated with both Yamnaya (3000–2400 BCE) and the Maykop culture (3700–3000 BCE) (in prep.) is absent from our Anatolian specimens, suggesting that neither archaeological horizon constitutes a suitable candidate for a “homeland” or “stepping stone” for the origin or spread of Anatolian Indo- European speakers to Anatolia. However, with the archaeological and genetic data presented here, we cannot reject a continuous small-scale influx of mixed groups from the direction of the Caucasus during the Chalcolithic period of the 4th millennium BCE.

While it is difficult to speak about the consequences of this find without having access to this paper in preparation or its samples, we already knew that Maykop had obvious cultural contacts with the steppe.

It will not be surprising to find not only EHG, but also R1b-L23 subclades there. In my opinion, though, the most likely source of EHG ancestry in Maykop (given the different culture shown in other steppe groups) is exogamy.

The question will still remain: was this a Proto-Anatolian-speaking group?

Diachronic map of Eneolithic migrations ca. 4000-3100 BC

My opinion in this regard – again, without access to the study – is that you would still need to propose:

  • A break-up of Anatolian ca. 4500 BC represented by some early group migrating into the Northern Caucasus area.
  • For this group – who were closely related linguistically and culturally to early Khvalynsk – to remain isolated in or around the Northern Caucasus, i.e. somehow ‘hidden’ from the evolving LPIE speakers in late Khvalynsk/early Yamna peoples.
  • Then, they would need to have migrated from Maykop to Anatolian territory only after ca. 3700 BC – while having close commercial contacts with Khvalynsk and the North Pontic cultures in the period 3700-3000 BC -, in some migration wave that has not showed up in the archaeological records to date.
  • Then appear as Old Hittites without showing EHG ancestry (even though they show it in the period 3700-3000 BC), near the region of the Armi state, where Anatolian was supposedly spoken already in the mid-3rd millennium.

Not a very convincing picture, right now, but indeed possible.

Also, we have R1b-Z2103 lineages and clear steppe ancestry in the region probably ca. 2500 BC with Hajji Firuz, which is most likely the product of the late Khvalynsk migration waves that we are seeing in the recent papers.

These migrations are then related to early LPIE-speaking migrants spreading after ca. 3300 BC – that also caused the formation of early Yamna and the expansion of Tocharian-related migrants – , which leaves almost no space for an Anatolian expansion, unless one supports that the former drove the latter.

NOTE. In any case, if the Caucasus route turned out to be the actual Anatolian route, I guess this would be a way as good as any other to finally kill their Indo-European – Corded Ware theory, for obvious reasons.

On the North Iranian homeland

A few thoughts for those equating CHG ancestry in IE speakers (and especially now in Old Hittites) with an origin in North Iran, due to a recent comment by David Reich:

In the paper it is clearly stated that there is no Neolithic Iranian ancestry in the Old Hittite samples.

Ancestry is not people, and it is certainly not language. The addition of CHG ancestry to the Eneolithic steppe need not mean a population or linguistic replacement. Although it could have been. But this has to be demonstrated with solid anthropological models.

NOTE. On the other hand, if you find people who considered (at least until de Barros Damgaard et al. 2018) steppe (ancestry/PCA) = Indo-European, then you should probably confront them about why CHG in Hittites and the arrival of CHG in steppe groups is now not to be considered the same, i.e why CHG / Iran_N ≠ PIE.

Since there has been no serious North Iranian homeland proposal made for a while, it is difficult to delineate a modern sketch, and I won’t spend the time with that unless there is some real anthropological model and genetic proof of it. I guess the Armenian homeland hypothesis proposed by Gamkrelidze and Ivanov (1995) would do, but since it relies on outdated data (some of which appears also in Gimbutas’ writings), it would need a full revision.

NOTE. Their theory of glottalic consonants (or ejectives) relied on the ‘archaism’ of Hittite, Germanic, and Armenian. As you can see (unless you live in the mid-20th century) this is not very reasonable, since Hittite is attested quite late and after heavy admixture with Middle Eastern peoples, and Germanic and Armenian are some of the latest attested (and more admixed, phonetically changed) languages.

This would be a proper answer, indeed, for those who would accept this homeland due to the reconstruction of ‘ejectives’ for these languages. Evidently, there is no need to posit a homeland near Armenia to propose a glottalic theory. Kortlandt is a proponent of a late and small expansion of Late PIE from the steppe, and still proposes a reconstruction of ejectives for PIE. But, this was the main reason of Gamkrelidze and Ivanov to propose that homeland, and in that sense it is obviously flawed.

Those claiming a relationship of the North Iranian homeland with such EHG ancestry in Maykop, or with the hypothetic Proto-Euphratic or Gutian, are obviously not understanding the implications of finding steppe ancestry coupled with (likely) early Late PIE migrants in the region in the mid-4th millennium.


Iberian prehistoric migrations in Genomics from Neolithic, Chalcolithic, and Bronze Age


New open access paper Four millennia of Iberian biomolecular prehistory illustrate the impact of prehistoric migrations at the far end of Eurasia, by Valdiosera, Günther, Vera-Rodríguez, et al. PNAS (2018) published ahead of print.

Abstract (emphasis mine)

Population genomic studies of ancient human remains have shown how modern-day European population structure has been shaped by a number of prehistoric migrations. The Neolithization of Europe has been associated with large-scale migrations from Anatolia, which was followed by migrations of herders from the Pontic steppe at the onset of the Bronze Age. Southwestern Europe was one of the last parts of the continent reached by these migrations, and modern-day populations from this region show intriguing similarities to the initial Neolithic migrants. Partly due to climatic conditions that are unfavorable for DNA preservation, regional studies on the Mediterranean remain challenging. Here, we present genome-wide sequence data from 13 individuals combined with stable isotope analysis from the north and south of Iberia covering a four-millennial temporal transect (7,500–3,500 BP). Early Iberian farmers and Early Central European farmers exhibit significant genetic differences, suggesting two independent fronts of the Neolithic expansion. The first Neolithic migrants that arrived in Iberia had low levels of genetic diversity, potentially reflecting a small number of individuals; this diversity gradually increased over time from mixing with local hunter-gatherers and potential population expansion. The impact of post-Neolithic migrations on Iberia was much smaller than for the rest of the continent, showing little external influence from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age. Paleodietary reconstruction shows that these populations have a remarkable degree of dietary homogeneity across space and time, suggesting a strong reliance on terrestrial food resources despite changing culture and genetic make-up.

(A) f4 statistics testing affinities of prehistoric European farmers to either early Neolithic Iberians or central Europeans, restricting these reference populations to SNP-captured individuals to avoid technical artifacts driving the affinities. The boxplots in A show the distributions of all individual f4 statistics belonging to the respective groups. The signal is not sensitive to the choice of reference populations and is not driven by hunter-gatherer–related admixture (Datasets S4 and S5). (B) Estimates of ancestry proportions in different prehistoric Europeans as well as modern southwestern Europeans. Individuals from regions of Iberia were grouped together for the analysis in A and B to increase sample sizes per group and reduce noise


We present a comprehensive biomolecular dataset spanning four millennia of prehistory across the whole Iberian Peninsula. Our results highlight the power of archaeogenomic studies focusing on specific regions and covering a temporal transect. The 4,000 y of prehistory in Iberia were shaped by major chronological changes but with little geographic substructure within the Peninsula. The subtle but clear genetic differences between early Neolithic Iberian farmers and early Neolithic central European farmers point toward two independent migrations, potentially originating from two slightly different source populations. These populations followed different routes, one along the Mediterranean coast, giving rise to early Neolithic Iberian farmers, and one via mainland Europe forming early Neolithic central European farmers. This directly links all Neolithic Iberians with the first migrants that arrived with the initial Mediterranean Neolithic wave of expansion. These Iberians mixed with local hunter-gatherers (but maintained farming/pastoral subsistence strategies, i.e., diet), leading to a recovery from the loss of genetic diversity emerging from the initial migration founder bottleneck. Only after the spread of Bell Beaker pottery did steppe-related ancestry arrive in Iberia, where it had smaller contributions to the population compared with the impact that it had in central Europe. This implies that the two prehistoric migrations causing major population turnovers in central Europe had differential effects at the southwestern edge of their distribution: The Neolithic migrations caused substantial changes in the Iberian gene pool (the introduction of agriculture by farmers) (6, 9, 11, 13, 24), whereas the impact of Bronze Age migrations (Yamnaya) was significantly smaller in Iberia than in north-central Europe (24). The post-Neolithic prehistory of Iberia is generally characterized by interactions between residents rather than by migrations from other parts of Europe, resulting in relative genetic continuity, while most other regions were subject to major genetic turnovers after the Neolithic (4, 6, 7, 9, 25, 48). Although Iberian populations represent the furthest wave of Neolithic expansion in the westernmost Mediterranean, the subsequent populations maintain a surprisingly high genetic legacy of the original pioneer farming migrants from the east compared with their central European counterparts. This counterintuitive result emphasizes the importance of in-depth diachronic studies in all parts of the continent.


Migration vs. Acculturation models for Aegean Neolithic in Genetics — still depending strongly on Archaeology


Recent paper in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Archaeogenomic analysis of the first steps of Neolithization in Anatolia and the Aegean, by Kılınç et al. (2017).


The Neolithic transition in west Eurasia occurred in two main steps: the gradual development of sedentism and plant cultivation in the Near East and the subsequent spread of Neolithic cultures into the Aegean and across Europe after 7000 cal BCE. Here, we use published ancient genomes to investigate gene flow events in west Eurasia during the Neolithic transition. We confirm that the Early Neolithic central Anatolians in the ninth millennium BCE were probably descendants of local hunter–gatherers, rather than immigrants from the Levant or Iran. We further study the emergence of post-7000 cal BCE north Aegean Neolithic communities. Although Aegean farmers have frequently been assumed to be colonists originating from either central Anatolia or from the Levant, our findings raise alternative possibilities: north Aegean Neolithic populations may have been the product of multiple westward migrations, including south Anatolian emigrants, or they may have been descendants of local Aegean Mesolithic groups who adopted farming. These scenarios are consistent with the diversity of material cultures among Aegean Neolithic communities and the inheritance of local forager know-how. The demographic and cultural dynamics behind the earliest spread of Neolithic culture in the Aegean could therefore be distinct from the subsequent Neolithization of mainland Europe.

The analysis of the paper highlights two points regarding the process of Neolithisation in the Aegean, which is essential to ascertain the impact of later Indo-European migrations of Proto-Anatolian and Proto-Greek and other Palaeo-Balkan speakers(texts partially taken verbatim from the paper):

  • The observation that the two central Anatolian populations cluster together to the exclusion of Neolithic populations of south Levant or of Iran restates the conclusion that farming in central Anatolia in the PPN was established by local groups instead of immigrants, which is consistent with the described cultural continuity between central Anatolian Epipalaeolithic and Aceramic communities. This reiterates the earlier conclusion that the early Neolithisation in the primary zone was largely a process of cultural interaction instead of gene flow.
Principal component analysis (PCA) with modern and ancient genomes. The eigenvectors were calculated using 50 modern west Eurasian populations, onto which genome data from ancient individuals were projected. The gray circles highlight the four ancient gene pools of west Eurasia. Modern-day individuals are shown as gray points. In the Near East, Pre-Neolithic (Epipaleolithic/Mesolithic) and Neolithic individuals genetically cluster by geography rather than by cultural context. For instance, Neolithic individuals of Anatolia cluster to the exclusion of individuals from the Levant or Iran). In Europe, genetic clustering reflects cultural context but not geography: European early Neolithic individuals are genetically distinct from European pre-Neolithic individuals but tightly cluster with Anatolians. PPN: Pre-Pottery/Aceramic Neolithic, PN: Pottery Neolithic, Tepecik: Tepecik-Çiftlik (electronic supplementary material, table S1 lists the number of SNPs per ancient individual).
  • The realisation that there are still two possibilities regarding the question of whether Aegean Neolithisation (post-7000 cal BC) involved similar acculturation processes, or was driven by migration similar to Neolithisation in mainland Europe — a long-standing debate in Archaeology:
    1. Migration from Anatolia to the Aegean: the Aegean Neolithisation must have involved replacement of a local, WHG-related Mesolithic population by incoming easterners. Central Anatolia or south Anatolia / north Levant (of which there is no data) are potential origins of the components observed. Notably, the north Aegeans – Revenia (ca. 6438-6264 BC) and Barcın (ca. 6500-6200 BC) – show higher diversity than the central Anatolians, and the population size of Aegeans was larger than that of central Anatolians. The lack of WHG in later samples indicates that they must have been fully replaced by the eastern migrant farmers.
    2. Adoption of Neolithic elements by local foragers: Alternatively, the Aegean coast Mesolithic populations may have been part of the Anatolian-related gene pool that occupied the Aegean seaboard during the Early Holocene, in an “out-of-the-Aegean hypothesis. Following the LGM, Aegean emigrants would have dispersed into central Anatolia and established populations that eventually gave rise to the local Epipalaeolithic and later Neolithic communities, in line with the earliest direct evidence for human presence in central Anatolia ca 14 000 cal BCE
  • On the archaeological evidence (excerpt):

    Instead of a single-sourced colonization process, the Aegean Neolithization may thus have flourished upon already existing coastal and interior interaction networks connecting Aegean foragers with the Levantine and central Anatolian PPN populations, and involved multiple cultural interaction events from its early steps onward [16,20,64,74]. This wide diversity of cultural sources and the potential role of local populations in Neolithic development may set apart Aegean Neolithization from that in mainland Europe. While Mesolithic Aegean genetic data are awaited to fully resolve this issue, researchers should be aware of the possibility that the initial emergence of the Neolithic elements in the Aegean, at least in the north Aegean, involved cultural and demographic dynamics different than those in European Neolithization.

    Featured image, from the article: “Summary of the data analyzed in this study. (a) Map of west Eurasia showing the geographical locations and (b) timeline showing the time period (years BCE) of ancient individuals investigated in the study. Blue circles: individuals from pre-Neolithic context; red triangles: individuals from Neolithic contexts”.


Palaeogenomic and biostatistical analysis of ancient DNA data from Mesolithic and Neolithic skeletal remains


PhD Thesis Palaeogenomic and biostatistical analysis of ancient DNA data from Mesolithic and Neolithic skeletal remains, by Zuzana Hofmanova (2017) at the University of Mainz.

Palaeogenomic data have illuminated several important periods of human past with surprising im- plications for our understanding of human evolution. One of the major changes in human prehistory was Neolithisation, the introduction of the farming lifestyle to human societies. Farming originated in the Fertile Crescent approximately 10,000 years BC and in Europe it was associated with a major population turnover. Ancient DNA from Anatolia, the presumed source area of the demic spread to Europe, and the Balkans, one of the first known contact zones between local hunter-gatherers and incoming farmers, was obtained from roughly contemporaneous human remains dated to ∼6 th millennium BC. This new unprecedented dataset comprised of 86 full mitogenomes, five whole genomes (7.1–3.7x coverage) and 20 high coverage (7.6–93.8x) genomic samples. The Aegean Neolithic pop- ulation, relatively homogeneous on both sides of the Aegean Sea, was positively proven to be a core zone for demic spread of farmers to Europe. The farmers were shown to migrate through the central Balkans and while the local sedentary hunter-gathers of Vlasac in the Danube Gorges seemed to be isolated from the farmers coming from the south, the individuals of the Aegean origin infiltrated the nearby hunter-gatherer community of Lepenski Vir. The intensity of infiltration increased over time and even though there was an impact of the Danubian hunter-gatherers on genetic variation of Neolithic central Europe, the Aegean ancestry dominated during the introduction of farming to the continent.

Taking only admixture analyses using Yamna samples:

This increased genetic affinity of Neolithic farmers to Danubians was observed for Neolithic Hungarians, LBK from central Europe and LBK Stuttgart sample. Some post-Neolithic samples also proved to share more drift with Danubians, again samples from Hungary (Bronze Age and Copper Age samples and also Yamnaya and samples with elevated Yamnaya ancestry (Early Bronze Age samples from Únětice, Bell Beaker samples, Late Neolithic Karlsdorf sample and Corded Ware samples).


The results of our ADMIXTURE analysis for the dataset including also Yamnaya samples are shown in Figure S1c. The cross-validation error was the lowest for K=2. Supervised and unsupervised analyses for K=3 are again highly concordant. Early Neolithic farmers again demonstrate almost no evidence of hunter-gatherer admixture, while it is observable in the Middle Neolithic farmers. However, much of the Late Neolithic hunter-gatherer ancestry from the previous analysis is replaced by Yamnaya ancestry. These results are consistent with the results of Haak et al. who demonstrated a resurgence of hunter-gatherer ancestry followed by the establishment of Eastern hunter-gatherer ancestry.

Again, admixture results show that something in the simplistic Yamna -> Corded Ware model is off. It is still interesting to review admixture results of European Mesolithic and Late Neolithic genomic data in relation to the so-called steppe or yamna ancestry or component (most likely an eastern steppe / forest zone ancestry probably also present in the earlier Corded Ware horizons) and its interpretation…

Image composed by me, from two different images of the PhD Thesis. To the left: Supervised run of ADMIXTURE. The clusters to be supervised were chosen to best fit the presumed ancestral populations (for HG Motala and for farmers Bar8 and Bar31 and for later Eastern migration Yamnaya). To the Right: Unsupervised run of ADMIXTURE for the Anatolian genomic dataset with Yamnaya samples for K=8.

Discovered via Généalogie génétique