“Steppe people seem not to have penetrated South Asia”


Open access structured abstract for The first horse herders and the impact of early Bronze Age steppe expansions into Asia from Damgaard et al. Science (2018) 360(6396):eaar7711.

Abstract (emphasis mine):

The Eurasian steppes reach from the Ukraine in Europe to Mongolia and China. Over the past 5000 years, these flat grasslands were thought to be the route for the ebb and flow of migrant humans, their horses, and their languages. de Barros Damgaard et al. probed whole-genome sequences from the remains of 74 individuals found across this region. Although there is evidence for migration into Europe from the steppes, the details of human movements are complex and involve independent acquisitions of horse cultures. Furthermore, it appears that the Indo-European Hittite language derived from Anatolia, not the steppes. The steppe people seem not to have penetrated South Asia. Genetic evidence indicates an independent history involving western Eurasian admixture into ancient South Asian peoples.

According to the commonly accepted “steppe hypothesis,” the initial spread of Indo-European (IE) languages into both Europe and Asia took place with migrations of Early Bronze Age Yamnaya pastoralists from the Pontic-Caspian steppe. This is believed to have been enabled by horse domestication, which revolutionized transport and warfare. Although in Europe there is much support for the steppe hypothesis, the impact of Early Bronze Age Western steppe pastoralists in Asia, including Anatolia and South Asia, remains less well understood, with limited archaeological evidence for their presence. Furthermore, the earliest secure evidence of horse husbandry comes from the Botai culture of Central Asia, whereas direct evidence for Yamnaya equestrianism remains elusive.

We investigated the genetic impact of Early Bronze Age migrations into Asia and interpret our findings in relation to the steppe hypothesis and early spread of IE languages. We generated whole-genome shotgun sequence data (~1 to 25 X average coverage) for 74 ancient individuals from Inner Asia and Anatolia, as well as 41 high-coverage present-day genomes from 17 Central Asian ethnicities.

Model-based admixture proportions for selected ancient and present-day individuals, assuming K = 6, shown with their corresponding geographical locations. Ancient groups are represented by larger admixture plots, with those sequenced in the present work surrounded by black borders and others used for providing context with blue borders. Present-day South Asian groups are represented by smaller admixture plots with dark red borders.

We show that the population at Botai associated with the earliest evidence for horse husbandry derived from an ancient hunter-gatherer ancestry previously seen in the Upper Paleolithic Mal’ta (MA1) and was deeply diverged from the Western steppe pastoralists. They form part of a previously undescribed west-to-east cline of Holocene prehistoric steppe genetic ancestry in which Botai, Central Asians, and Baikal groups can be modeled with different amounts of Eastern hunter-gatherer (EHG) and Ancient East Asian genetic ancestry represented by Baikal_EN.

In Anatolia, Bronze Age samples, including from Hittite speaking settlements associated with the first written evidence of IE languages, show genetic continuity with preceding Anatolian Copper Age (CA) samples and have substantial Caucasian hunter-gatherer (CHG)–related ancestry but no evidence of direct steppe admixture.

In South Asia, we identified at least two distinct waves of admixture from the west, the first occurring from a source related to the Copper Age Namazga farming culture from the southern edge of the steppe, who exhibit both the Iranian and the EHG components found in many contemporary Pakistani and Indian groups from across the subcontinent. The second came from Late Bronze Age steppe sources, with a genetic impact that is more localized in the north and west.

Our findings reveal that the early spread of Yamnaya Bronze Age pastoralists had limited genetic impact in Anatolia as well as Central and South Asia. As such, the Asian story of Early Bronze Age expansions differs from that of Europe. Intriguingly, we find that direct descendants of Upper Paleolithic hunter-gatherers of Central Asia, now extinct as a separate lineage, survived well into the Bronze Age. These groups likely engaged in early horse domestication as a prey-route transition from hunting to herding, as otherwise seen for reindeer. Our findings further suggest that West Eurasian ancestry entered South Asia before and after, rather than during, the initial expansion of western steppe pastoralists, with the later event consistent with a Late Bronze Age entry of IE languages into South Asia. Finally, the lack of steppe ancestry in samples from Anatolia indicates that the spread of the earliest branch of IE languages into that region was not associated with a major population migration from the steppe.

I think the wording of the abstract is weird, but consequent with their samples and results, so probably just clickbait / citebait for Indian journalists and social networks, or maybe a new attempt to ‘show respect for the sensibilities of Indians’ related to the artificially magnified “AIT vs. OIT” controversy, that is only present in India.

However, everything is possible, since it is brought to you by the same Danish group who proposed the Yamnaya ancestral component™, the CHG = Indo-European (and simultaneously EHG in Maykop = Anatolian??), and now also the CWC/R1a = Indo-European & Volosovo = Uralic

Here is the reaction of Narasimhan: Narasimhan has deleted the Tweet, it basically questioned the sentence that steppe people did not penetrate South Asia.


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.

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: