Steppe and Caucasus Eneolithic: the new keystones of the EHG-CHG-ANE ancestry in steppe groups


Some interesting excerpts from Wang et al. (2018):

An interesting observation is that steppe zone individuals directly north of the Caucasus (Eneolithic Samara and Eneolithic steppe) had initially not received any gene flow from Anatolian farmers. Instead, the ancestry profile in Eneolithic steppe individuals shows an even mixture of EHG and CHG ancestry, which argues for an effective cultural and genetic border between the contemporaneous Eneolithic populations in the North Caucasus, notably Steppe and Caucasus. Due to the temporal limitations of our dataset, we currently cannot determine whether this ancestry is stemming from an existing natural genetic gradient running from EHG far to the north to CHG/Iran in the south or whether this is the result of farmers with Iranian farmer/ CHG-related ancestry reaching the steppe zone independent of and prior to a stream of Anatolian farmer-like ancestry, where they mixed with local hunter-gatherers that carried only EHG ancestry.

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

Concerning the influences from the south, our oldest dates from the immediate Maykop predecessors Darkveti-Meshoko (Eneolithic Caucasus) indicate that the Caucasus genetic profile was present north of the range ~6500 BP, 4500 calBCE. This is in accordance with the Neolithization of the Caucasus, which had started in the flood plains of the great rivers in the South Caucasus in the 6th millennium BCE from where it spread to the West and Northwest Caucasus during the 5th millennium BCE9, 49. It remains unclear whether the local CHG ancestry profile (represented by Late Upper Palaeolithic/Mesolithic individuals from Kotias Klde and Satsurblia in today’s Georgia) was also present in the North Caucasus region before the Neolithic. However, if we take the Caucasus hunter-gatherer individuals from Georgia as a local baseline and the oldest Eneolithic Caucasus individuals from our transect as a proxy for the local Late Neolithic ancestry, we notice a substantial increase in Anatolian farmer-related ancestry. This in all likelihood is linked to the process of Neolithization, which also brought this type of ancestry to Europe. As a consequence, it is possible that Neolithic groups could have reached the northern flanks of the Caucasus earlier50 (Supplementary Information 1) and in contact with local hunter gatherers facilitated the exploration of the steppe environment for pastoralist economies. Hence, additional sampling from older individuals is needed to fill this temporal and spatial gap.

The newest paper of the Reich/Jena group has brought samples (probably) much nearer to the actual CHG and ANE contribution seen in Eneolithic steppe peoples than the previously available Kotias Klde, Satsurblia, Afontova Gora 3, or Mal’ta.

It is impossible to say without direct access to the samples, but it is very likely that we will soon be able to break down different gross contributions from groups similar to these Steppe/Caucasus Neolithic ancestral groups into the diverse Eneolithic cultures of the Pontic-Caspian steppe, and thus trace more precisely each of these cultures to their genetic (and thus ethnolinguistic) heirs.

Admixture Graph modelling of the population history of the Caucasus region. We started with a skeleton tree without admixture including Mbuti, Loschbour and MA1. We grafted onto this EHG, CHG, Globular_Amphora, Eneolithic_steppe, Maykop, and Yamnaya_Caucasus, adding them consecutively to all possible edges in the tree and retaining only graph solutions that provided no differences of |Z|>3 between fitted and estimated statistics. The worst match is |Z|=2.824 for this graph. We note that the maximum discrepancy is f4(MA1, Maykop; EHG, Eneolithic_steppe) = -3.369 if we do not add the 4% EHG ancestry to Maykop. Drifts along edges are multiplied by 1000 and dashed lines represent admixture.”

Some more representative samples from Eneolithic steppe, steppe-forest and forest zone cultures of Eastern Europe will probably help with the fine-scale structure of different Chalcolithic groups, especially the homeland of early Corded Ware groups.

These new samples seem another good reason (like the Botai and R1b-M73) to rethink the role of (what I assumed were) different westward Mesolithic Eurasian waves of expansion influencing the formation of an Indo-Uralic and Indo-European community in Eastern Europe, and return to the simpler idea of local contributions from North Caucasus and steppe peoples absorbed by expanding EHG-like groups.


Earliest modern humans outside Africa and ancient genomic history


Interesting new paper at Science, The earliest modern humans outside Africa, by Hershkovitz et al., Science (2018) Vol. 359, Issue 6374, pp. 456-459


Recent paleoanthropological studies have suggested that modern humans migrated from Africa as early as the beginning of the Late Pleistocene, 120,000 years ago. Hershkovitz et al. now suggest that early modern humans were already present outside of Africa more than 55,000 years earlier (see the Perspective by Stringer and Galway-Witham). During excavations of sediments at Mount Carmel, Israel, they found a fossil of a mouth part, a left hemimaxilla, with almost complete dentition.

The sediments contain a series of well-defined hearths and a rich stone-based industry, as well as abundant animal remains. Analysis of the human remains, and dating of the site and the fossil itself, indicate a likely age of at least 177,000 years for the fossil—making it the oldest member of the Homo sapiens clade found outside Africa.


To date, the earliest modern human fossils found outside of Africa are dated to around 90,000 to 120,000 years ago at the Levantine sites of Skhul and Qafzeh. A maxilla and associated dentition recently discovered at Misliya Cave, Israel, was dated to 177,000 to 194,000 years ago, suggesting that members of the Homo sapiens clade left Africa earlier than previously thought. This finding changes our view on modern human dispersal and is consistent with recent genetic studies, which have posited the possibility of an earlier dispersal of Homo sapiens around 220,000 years ago. The Misliya maxilla is associated with full-fledged Levallois technology in the Levant, suggesting that the emergence of this technology is linked to the appearance of Homo sapiens in the region, as has been documented in Africa.

Beautifully complementing this anthropological research, the open access review Insights into Modern Human Prehistory Using Ancient Genomes, by Melinda A. Yang and Qiaomei Fu, Trends in Genetics (2018), depicts potential later migrations:

Key Figure: Schematic of Populations in Eurasia and the Americas (Bottom Right) during Ancient Modern A (AMA, ∼45–35 ka), Ancient Modern B (AMB, ∼34–15 ka), and Ancient Modern C (AMC, ∼14–7.5 ka).

Abbreviations: AMER, ancestry related to present-day Native Americans and Anzick 1; ANE, ancestry related to ancient North Eurasians represented by Mal’ta 1; EAS, ancestry related to present-day East Asians and the Tianyuan and Devil’s Gate individuals; EUR, ancestry related to ancient Europeans and found partially in present-day Europeans; NE, ancestry related to an unsampled population known as Basal Eurasian and found in partial amounts in ancient and present-day populations of the Near East and in present-day Europeans. Broken lines indicate no ancient genetic samples have been found for a population with the inferred ancestry. Colors loosely indicate genetic groupings between or within a region, with color gradients showing the connections (i.e., gene flow) that may exist between different ancient populations. A summary of major events in each of the time periods is on the left.


Eurasia ∼45–35 ka shows the presence of at least four distinct populations: early Asians and Europeans, as well as populations with ancestry found hardly or not at all in present-day populations.

Europeans from around 34–15 ka show high internal population structure.

Approximately 14–7.5 ka, populations across Eurasia shared genetic similarities, suggesting greater interactions between geographically distant populations.

Ancient modern human genomes support at least two Neanderthal admixture events, one ∼60–50 ka in early ancestors of non-African populations and a second >37 ka related to the Oase 1 individual.

A gradual decline in archaic ancestry in Europeans dating from ∼37 to 14 ka suggests that purifying selection lowered the amount of Neanderthal ancestry first introduced into ancient modern humans.

The genetic relationship of past modern humans to today’s populations and each other was largely unknown until recently, when advances in ancient DNA sequencing allowed for unprecedented analysis of the genomes of these early people. These ancient genomes reveal new insights into human prehistory not always observed studying present-day populations, including greater details on the genetic diversity, population structure, and gene flow that characterized past human populations, particularly in early Eurasia, as well as increased insight on the relationship between archaic and modern humans. Here, we review genetic studies on ∼45 000- to 7500-year-old individuals associated with mainly preagricultural cultures found in Eurasia, the Americas, and Africa.

(Both articles discovered via Iosif Lazaridis Twitter account).

See also: