Consequences of O&M 2018 (III): The Balto-Slavic conundrum in Linguistics, Archaeology, and Genetics

This is part of a series of posts analyzing the findings of the recent Nature papers Olalde et al.(2018) and Mathieson et al.(2018) (abbreviated O&M 2018).

The recent publication of Narasimhan et al. (2018) has outdated the draft of this post a bit, and it has made it at the same time still more interesting.

While we wait for the publication of the dataset (and the actual Y-DNA haplogroups and precise subclades with the revision of the paper), and as we watch the wrath of Hindu nationalists vented against the West (as if the steppe was in Western Europe) and science itself, we have already seen confirmation from the Reich Lab of their new approach to Late Proto-Indo-European migrations.

Yamna/Steppe EMBA, previously identified as the direct source of “steppe” ancestry (AKA Yamnaya‘ ancestry) and Late Indo-European migrations in Asia – through Corded Ware, it is to be understood – has been officially changed. In the case of Indo-Iranian migrations it is the “Steppe MLBA cloud”, after a direct contribution to it of Yamna/Steppe EMBA, which expanded Indo-Iranian, as I predicted ancient DNA could support.

In Twitter, the main author responded the following when asked for this change regarding the origin of steppe ancestry in Asian migrants (emphasis mine):

Our reasons are:

  1. The Turan samples show no elevated steppe ancestry till 2000BC.
  2. MLBA is R1a
  3. Indus periphery doesn’t have steppe ancestry but Swat does, and EMBA doesn’t work both in terms of time or genetic ancestry to explain the difference.
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”. Yes, this map is the latest official view on migrations from the Reich Lab now. See the original full image here.

I am glad to see finally recognized that Y-DNA haplogroups and time have to be taken into account, and happy also to see an end to the by now obsolete ‘ADMIXTURE/PCA-only relevance’ in Human Ancestry. The timing of archaeological migrations, the cultural attribution of each sample, and the role of Y-DNA variability reduction and expansion have been finally recognized as equally important to assess potential migrations, as I requested.

This change was already in the making some months ago, when David Anthony – who has worked with the group for this paper and others before it – already changed his official view on Corded Ware – from his previous support of the 2015 model. His latest theory, which linked Yamna settlements in Hungary with a potential mixed society of migrants (of R1b-L23 and R1a-Z645 lineages) from West Yamna, is most likely wrong, too, but it was clearly a brave step forward in the right direction.

The only reasonable model now is that Yamna expanded Late Proto-Indo-European languages with steppe ancestry + R1b-L23 subclades.

You can either accept this change, or you can deny it and wait until one sample of R1a-Z645 appears in West Yamna or central Europe, or one sample of R1b-L23 appears in Corded Ware (as it is obvious it could happen), to keep spreading the wrong ideas still some more years, while the rest of the world goes on: Mallory, Anthony, and other archaeologists co-authoring the latest paper (probably part of the stronger partnership with academics that we were going to see), who had formally put forward complex, detailed theories, investing their time and name in them, have rejected their previous migration models to develop new ones based on the most recent findings. If they can do that, I am sure any amateur geneticist out there can, too.

Modified image, from Narasimhan et al. (2018). Anthony’s new model of a Yamna Hungary -> Corded Ware (Małopolska) migration arrow in red. Notice also how they keep the arrow from West Yamna to the north (in black), due probably to the Baltic Late Neolithic samples (see below).

The Balto-Slavic dialect and its homeland

An interesting question in Linguistics and Archaeology, now that Corded Ware cannot be identified as “Indo-Slavonic” or any other imaginary ancient group (like Indo-Slavo-Germanic), remains thus mostly unchanged since before the famous 2015 genetic papers:

  • Was Balto-Slavic a dialect of the expanding North-West Indo-European language, a Northern LPIE dialect, as we support, based on morphological and lexical isoglosses?
  • Or was it part of an Indo-Slavonic group in East Yamna, i.e. a Graeco-Aryan dialect, based mainly on the traditional Satem-Centum phonological division?

I am a strong supporter of Balto-Slavic being a member of a North-West Indo-European group. That’s probably because I educated myself first with the main Spanish books* on Proto-Indo-European reconstruction, and its authors kept repeating this consistent idea, but I have found no relevant data to reject it in the past 15 years.

* Today two of the three volumes are available in English, although they are from the early 1990s, hence a bit outdated. They also maintain certain peculiarities from Adrados’ own personal theories, such as multiple (coloured) laryngeals, 5 cases – with a common ancestral oblique case – for Middle PIE, etc. But it has lots of detailed discussions on the different aspects of the reconstruction. It is not an easy introductory manual to the field, though; for that you have already many famous short handbooks out there, like those of Fortson (N.American), Beekes (Leiden), or Meier-Brügger (Germany).

Fernando and I have always maintained that North-West Indo-European must have formed a very recent community, probably connected well into the early 2nd millennium BC for certain recent isoglosses to spread among its early dialects, based on our guesstimates*, and on our belief that it formed at some point not just a dialect continuum, but probably a common language, so we estimated that the expansion was associated with the pan-European influence of Únětice and close early Bronze Age European contacts.

NOTE. I know, you must be thinking “linguistic guesstimates? Bollocks, that’s not Science”. Right? Wrong. When you learn a dozen languages from different branches, half a dozen ancient ones, and then still study some reconstructed proto-languages from them, you begin to make your own assumptions about how the language changes you perceive could have developed according to your mental time frames. If you just learned a second language and some Latin in school, and try to make assumptions as to how language changes, or you believe you can judge it with this limited background, you have evidently the wrong idea of what a guesstimate is. I accept criticism to this concept from a scientist used only to statistical methods, since it comes from pure ignorance of what it means. And I accept alternative guesstimates from linguists whose language backgrounds may differ (and thus their perception of language change). However, I would not accept a glottochronological or otherwise (supposedly) statistical model instead (or a religious model, for that matter), so we have no alternatives to guesstimates for the moment.

In fact, guesstimates and dialectalization have paved the way to the steppe hypothesis, first with the kurgan hypothesis by Marija Gimbutas, then complemented further in the past 60 years by linguists and archaeologists into a detailed Khvalynsk -> Yamna -> Afanasevo/Bell Beaker/Sintashta-Andronovo expansion model, now confirmed with genomics. So either you trust us (or any other polyglot who deals with Indo-European matters, like Adrados, Lehmann, Beekes, Kloekhorst, Kortlandt, etc.), or you begin learning ancient languages and obtaining your own guesstimates, whichever way you prefer. The easy way of numbers + computer science does not exist yet, and is quite far from happening – until we can understand how our brains summarize and select important details involved in obtaining estimates – , no matter what you might be reading (even in Nature or Science) recently

Proto-Indo-European dialectal expansion according to Adrados (1998).

Data from the 2015 papers changed my understanding of the original NWIE-speaking community, and I have since shifted my preffered anthropological model (from a Northern dialect in Yamna spreading into a loose NWIE-speaking Corded Ware -> Únětice) to a quite close group formed by late Yamna settlers in the Carpathian Basin, expanded as East Bell Beakers, and later continuing with close contacts through Central European EBA.

NOTE. As you can read, we initially rejected Gimbutas’ and Anthony’s (2007) notion of a Late PIE splitting suddenly into all known dialects (viz. Italo-Celtic with Vučedol/Bell Beaker), and looked thus for a common NWIE spread with Corded Ware migrants, with help from inferences of modern haplogroup distribution (as was common in the early 2000s). Language reconstruction was the foundation of that model, and it was right in its own way. It probably gave the wrong idea to geneticists and archaeologists, who quite easily accepted some results from the 2015 papers as supporting this model. But it also helped us develop a new model and predict what would happen in future papers, as demonstrated in O&M 2018. Any alternative linguistic and archaeological model could explain what is seen today in genomics, but our model of North-West Indo-European reconstruction is obviously at present the best fit for it.

Map of Chalcolithic migrations (A Grammar of Modern Indo-European, 2nd ed. 2008): Corded Ware as the vector of Indo-European languages.

Nevertheless, one of the most important Balticists and Slavicists alive, Frederik Kortlandt, posits that there was in fact an Indo-Slavonic group, so one has to take that possibility into account. Not that his ideas are flawless, of course: he defends the glottalic theory – which is still held today by just a handful of researchers – , and I strongly oppose his description of Balto-Slavic and Germanic oblique cases in *-m- (against other LPIE *-bh-) as an ancestral remnant related to Anatolian (an ending which few scholars would agree corresponds to what he claims), since that would probably represent an older split than warranted in our model. I believe genetics is proving that the dialectalization of Late PIE happened as Fernando López-Menchero and I described.

NOTE. The idea with these examples of how he has been wrong in LPIE and MPIE reconstruction is not to observe the common ad hominem arguments used by amateur geneticists to dismiss academic proposals (“he said that and was wrong, ergo he is wrong now”). It is to bring into attention that the argument from authority is important for the academic community insofar as it creates a common ground, i.e. especially when there are many relevant scholars agreeing on the same subject. But, indeed, any model can and should be challenged, and all authorities are capable of being wrong, and in fact they often are.

The most common explanation today for the dialectal development *-m- is an innovation (not an archaism), whether morphological (viz. Ita. and Gk. them. pl *-i) or phonological (as I defend); and the most commonly repeated model for the satemization trend (even for those supporting a three-dorsal theory for PIE) is areal contact, whether driven by a previous (most likely Uralic) substratum, or not. Hence, if Kortlandt’s main different phonological and morphological assessments of the parent language are flawed, and they are the basis for his dialectal scheme, it should be revised.

The ‘atomic bomb’ that Indo-Slavonic proponents launched, in my opinion, was Holzer’s Temematic (born roughly at the same time as the renewed Old European concept in North-West Indo-European model of Oettinger) – and indeed Kortlandt’s acceptance of it. It seems to me like the linguistic equivalent of the archaeological “patron-client relationship” proposed by Anthony for a cultural diffusion of Late PIE into different Corded Ware regions: almost impossible to be fully rejected, if the Indo-Slavonic superstrate is proposed for a relatively early time.

In my opinion, the shared morphological layer with North-West Indo-European is obviously older than Iranian influence on Slavic, and I think this is communis opinio today. But how could we disentangle the dialectalization of Balto-Slavic, if there is (as it seems) an ancestral substrate layer (most likely Uralic) common to both Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian? It seems a very difficult task.

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

The expansion of Balto-Slavic

In any case, there are two, and only two mainstream choices right now.

NOTE. Mainstream, as in representing trends current today among Indo-Europeanists, so that many programs around the world would explain these alternative models to their students, or they would easily appear in most handbooks. Not like the word “mainstream” you read in any comment out there by anyone who has never been interested in Indo-European studies, and uses any text from any author, written who knows how long ago, merely to justify their ethnic preconceptions coupled with certain genomic finds.

You can agree with:

A) The Spanish and German schools of thought, together with many American and British scholars, as well as archaeologists like Heyd, Mallory, or Prescott, and now Anthony, too: the language ancestral to Balto-Slavic, Germanic, and Italo-Celtic accompanied expanding West Yamna/East Bell Beakers into Europe, and then their speakers – like the rest of peoples everywhere in Europe – admixed later in the different regions.

B) Frederik Kortlandt and other Indo-Slavicists. The ‘original’ Balto-Slavic would have spread with Srubna (and likely Potapovka before it), as a product of the admixture of East Yamna’s Indo-Slavonic with incoming Corded Ware migrants (this would correspond to my description of Indo-Iranian). ‘True’ Balto-Slavic speakers would have then absorbed the Temematic-speaking migrants (equivalent to early Balto-Slavic migrants as described in the demic diffusion model) spreading from the west, most likely in the steppe. Later developments from the steppe would have then brought Baltic to the north, and Slavic to the west.

Therefore, in both cases the language spoken by early R1a-Z645 lineages in Únětice or Mierzanowice/Nitra EBA cultures would have been an eastern North-West Indo-European dialect associated with expanding Bell Beakers, and closely related to Germanic and Italo-Celtic. In the second case, the ancient samples we see genetically closer to modern West Slavs could thus be identified with those speaking the Temematic substrate absorbed later by Balto-Slavic, or maybe by Balts migrating northward, and Slavs spreading west- and southward.

NOTE. In any case, we know that R1a-Z645 subclades resurged in Central-East Europe after the expansion of Bell Beakers, potentially showing an ancient link with the prevalent R1a subclades in the region today. We know that some ancient Central European populations cluster near modern West Slavs, but in other interesting regions (like the British Isles, Central Europe, Scandinavia, or Iberia) we also see close clusters, and nevertheless observe historically documented radical ethnolinguistic changes, as well as many different subsequent genetic inflows and founder effects, that have significantly altered the anthropological picture in these regions, so it could very well be that the lineages we find in ancient samples do not correspond to modern West Slavic lineages, or even similar ancient and modern lineages could show a radical cultural discontinuity (as is likely the case in this to-and-from-the-steppe migration scheme).

Diachronic map of migrations in Europe ca. 1250-750 BC.

Since we are going to see signs of both – west and east admixture – in early Slavic communities near the steppe, and the distribution from South, West, and East Slavs will include a wide “cloud” connecting Central, East, and South-East Europe, as it is evident already from early Germanic samples, it may be interesting to shift our attention to the Tollense valley and Lusatian samples, and their predominant Y-DNA haplogroups. Once again, tracking male-driven migrations from Central Europe to the Baltic region and the steppe, and back again to much of Central and South Europe, will determine which groups expanded this eastern NWIE dialect initially and in later times.

Since Baltic and Slavic languages are attested quite late, genetics is likely to help us select among the different available models for Balto-Slavic, although (it is worth repeating it) these lineages may not be the same that later expanded each dialect.

NOTE. Bronze and Iron Age samples might begin to depict the true Balto-Slavic migration map. Apart from the strong differences in the satemization processes seen among Baltic, Slavic, and Indo-Iranian, from an archaeological point of view the geographic location of the earliest attested Baltic languages and the prehistoric developments of the region seem to me almost incompatible with a homeland in the steppe. Anyway, in the worst-case scenario – for those of us who work with Balto-Slavic to reconstruct North-West Indo-European – there is consensus that there must an eastern North-West Indo-European language (which some would call Temematic), whose common traits with Germanic and Italo-Celtic we use to reconstruct their parent language. The question remains thus mostly theoretical, of limited pragmatic use for the reconstruction.

The third way: Baltic Late Neolithic

I have referred to Kristiansen and his group‘s position regarding Corded Ware as Indo-European as flawed before. While their latest interpretation (and language identification) was wrong, Kristiansen’s original idea of long-lasting contacts in the Dnieper-Dniester region with the area occupied by late Trypillia developing a Proto-Corded Ware culture was probably right, as we are seeing now.

New data in Mittnik et al. 2018 show some interesting early Late Neolithic samples from the Baltic region – Zvejnieki, Gyvakarai1 (R1a-Z645) and Plinkaigalis242 – , proving what I predicted: that elevated steppe ancestry and R1a-Z645 subclades would be found in the Dnieper-Dniester region unrelated to the Yamna expansion, and, it seems, to migrants of the Corded Ware A-horizon.

Funnily enough, this shows that there were probably ancient interactions in the region, as originally asserted by Kristiansen, and probably following some of Victor Klochko‘s proposed exchange paths, but earlier than predicted by him.

Nevertheless, linguist Guus Kroonen (from Kristiansen’s workgroup) issued a quick response to O&M 2018 in yet another twist of his agricultural substrate theory, changing Corded Ware from the vector to a vector of expansion of Late Proto-Indo-European languages (thus following again strictly Gimbutas’ oudated model), which fails thus to tackle the main inconsistencies of their previous models, as shown now with the latest paper on South Asian migrations. As I said, they were always one step behind Anthony, and they still are.

Funny also how Anthony, too – like Kristiansen – , may have been right all along since 2007, in proposing that Corded Ware (the nuclear Corded Ware migrants) stemmed from the Dnieper-Dniester region roughly at the same time as Yamna migrants expanded west, and that they did not have any direct genetic connection (in terms of migrations) with each other.

Most likely Pre-Proto-Anatolian migration with Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chiefs in the North Pontic steppe and the Balkans.

Both researchers, who collaborated with the latest genomic research, remade their models, and have to revise now their most recent proposals with the new data, influencing each new paper published with their pressure to be right in their previous models, and with new genomic data compelling them to change their theories under the pressure not to be too wrong again, in this strange vicious circle. Had they remained silent and committed to their archaeological theories, they could have been right all along, each one in their own way.

NOTE. BTW, in case you see ad hominem here too, I feel compelled to say that only thanks to their commitment to disentangle the truth about ancient migrations, and their readiness to collaborate with genetic research – unlike many others in their field – we know today what we know. If they have been wrong many times, it is because they have tried to connect the genetic dots as they were told. Only because of their readiness to explore their science further they should be praised by all. But, again, that does not mean that they cannot be wrong in their models…

Thanks to Anthony’s latest change of mind, we don’t have to hear the “cultural diffusion” argument anymore, and I consider this a great advance for the field.

NOTE. Not that there could not be prehistoric cultural diffusion events of language (i.e. not accompanied by genetic admixture), of course, but such theories, almost impossible to disprove, probably need much more than a simple “patron-client relationship” proposal and anthropometry to justify them, in a time when we will be able to see almost every meaningful personal exchange in Genomics…

Today – since the finding of Ukraine_Eneolithic sample I6561, of haplogroup R1a-Z93, dated ca. 4200 BC, and likely from the Sredni Stog culture – it seems more likely than ever that the expansion of R1a-Z645 subclades was in fact associated with the spread of steppe admixture probably near the North Pontic forest-steppe region, most likely from the Dnieper-Dniester or Upper Dniester region.

The appearance of a ‘late’ Z93 subclade already at such an early date, with steppe admixture, makes it still more likely that the Proto-Corded Ware culture, from where Corded Ware migrants of R1a-Z645 lineages later spread, was probably associated with this wide region.

In a parallel but unrelated migration, as it is now clear, steppe admixture also expanded with Yamna settlers of R1b-L23 lineages into the North Pontic steppe – from the North Caspian steppe, where it had developed previously as the Khvalynsk and (likely) Repin cultures -, roughly at the same time as Proto-Corded Ware expanded to the north, ca. 3300-3000 BC, and then expanded to the west into the Balkans (contributing to the formation of Balkan EBA cultures, and to the East Bell Beaker group).

NOTE. A migration of Yamna settlers northward along the Prut dated ca. 3000 BC or later could have justified the appearance of steppe admixture in the Dnieper-Dniester region, as I proposed for the Zvejnieki sample, although dates from Baltic samples are likely too early for that. For this to be corroborated, migrants should be accompanied up to a certain region by R1b-L23 lineages, and this could mean in turn a revival of Anthony’s original model of cultural diffusion of 2007. The most likely scenario, however, as predicted by Heyd, given the early appearance of steppe admixture and R1a-Z93 subclades in the forest-steppe during the 5th millennium, is that the admixture happened much earlier than that, fully unrelated to Late PIE migrations.

Diachronic map of Copper Age migrations in Europe ca. 3100-2600 BC

The modern Baltic and Slavic conundrum

As for some people of Northern European ancestry previously supporting a bulletproof Yamna (R1a/R1b) -> Corded Ware migration that was obviously wrong; now supporting different Sredni Stog -> Corded Ware groups representing Indo-Slavonic (and Germanic??) in a model that is clearly wrong: how are these attempts different from Western Europeans supporting the autochthonous continuity of R1b-P312 lineages against all recent data, from Indians supporting the autochthonous continuity of R1a-M417 lineages no matter what, and from the more recent trend of autochthonous continuity theories for N1c lineages and Uralic in Eastern Europe?

Modern Germanic-speaking peoples can trace their common language to Nordic Iron Age Proto-Germanic, Celts to La Tène’s expansion of Proto-Celtic, and Romance speakers to the Roman expansion (and to an earlier Proto-Italic), all three dating approximately to the Iron Age. Proto-Slavic is dated much later than that, and probably Proto-Baltic too (or maybe earlier depending on the dialectal proposal), with Balto-Slavic being possibly coeval with Pre-Proto-Germanic and Italo-Celtic, but probably slightly later than that. Also, the language ancestral to Slavic may be (like a theoretical Proto-Romance language) impossible to reconstruct with precision, due to multiple substrate (or superstrate?) influences on the wide territory where Proto-Slavic formed and expanded from, in close alliance with steppe communities of different ethnolinguistic backgrounds.

We know that proto-historic Germanic, Celtic, and Italic peoples spread from relatively small regions, and had almost nothing to do with historic groups speaking their daughter languages, let alone modern speakers. Baltic and Slavic are not different.

NOTE. We have read that Weltzin samples clustered closely to Central Europeans (especially Austrians), and at a certain distance from modern Poles. That’s the conclusion of Sell’s PhD thesis, and it may be right, if you take only modern samples for comparison. However, if you have read or thought that they represented some kind of “ancestral Germanic vs. Slavic” battle, please imagine Trump’s voice for my opinion: Wrroonng, wrroonng, wrroonng. They cluster closely with Bell Beaker migrants, Poland BA, and Únětice (in this order), which we now know thanks to the data from O&M 2018 and Mittnik et al. 2018. And we also know who they don’t cluster close too: Corded Ware and Trzciniec samples. Therefore, people from the region near the most likely homelands of Pre-Proto-Germanic and Proto-Balto-Slavic are – as expected – likely descendants from Bell Beaker migrants in Central Europe. The genetic relationship of those ancient samples to modern inhabitants of Central-East Europe? Not obvious – at all.

PCA of samples from Tollense Valley battlefield and some ancient and modern samples.

We also know (and have known for a long time, well before these recent papers) that the oldest attested Indo-European languagesMycenaean, early Anatolian languages, and Indo-Aryan (through certain words in Mitanni inscriptions) – do not show continuity from the places where they were first attested to the Late and Middle Proto-Indo-European (steppe) homeland either. There should be no problem then in accepting that there is no linguistic, archaeological, or common sense reason to support that Balto-Slavic is older or shows more regional continuity than other IE languages from Europe.

NOTE. Oh yes, Balts saying “Baltic is the most similar language to PIE” I hear you thinking? Uh-huh, sure. And according to some Greeks (supported e.g. by the conclusions from Lazaridis et al. 2017) Mycenaeans were ‘autochthonous’, and Proto-Greek the most similar to PIE. For many Hindus, Vedic Sanskrit is in fact PIE), and the latest paper by Narasimhan et al. (2018) only reinforces this idea (don’t ask me why). Also, Caucasian scholar Gamkrelidze (with Ivanov) supported the origin of the language precisely in the Caucasus, with Armenian being thus the purest language. For Italians fans of Virgil and the Roman Empire, Latin (like Aeneas) comes from Anatolian linguistically and genetically, hence it must be the ‘oldest’ IE dialect alive… No, wait, Danish scholars Kroonen and Iversen quite recently asserted that Germanic is the oldest to branch off, then it should thus be nearest to PIE! I think you can see a pattern here…And don’t forget about the new Vasconic-Uralic hypotheses going on now, with Vasconic fans of R1b changing from Palaeolithic to Mesolithic, and now to European Neolithic and whatnot, or Uralic fans of N1c changing now from Mesolithic EHG to Siberia (for ancestry) or Central Asia (for N1c subclades), or whatever is necessary to believe in ‘continuity’ of their people following the newest genetic papers… Just pick whatever theory you want, call it “mainstream”, and that’s it.

So, if there is no reliable archaeological model connecting Bronze or Iron Age cultures to Eastern European cultures which are supposed to represent the Proto-Slavic and Proto-Baltic homelands…why on earth would any reasonable amateur (not to speak about scholars) dare propose any sort of genetic or linguistic continuity for thousands of years from PIE to early Slavs, a people whose first blurry appearance in historical records happened during the Middle Ages in rather turbulent and genetically admixed regions? It does not make any sense, and it had all odds against it. Blond hair, blue eyes, lactase persistence? Sure, and ABO group, brachycephaly, anthropometry… All very scientifish.

Diachronic map of migrations during Classical Antiquity in Europe 250 BC – 250 AD.
Where’s Proto-Slavic Wally?


Human ancestry can only help refine solid academic theories, it cannot create one. Every new pet theory used to satisfy modern cultural pre- and misconceptions has failed, and it will fail again, and again, and again…

To have an own anthropological model of prehistoric migration requires time and study. It is not enough to play with software and to misuse traditional academic disciplines just to ‘prove’ some completely irrelevant, meaningless, and false continuity.


Consequences of O&M 2018 (I): The latest West Yamna “outlier”

This is the first of a series of posts analyzing the findings of the recent Nature papers Olalde et al.(2018) and Mathieson et al.(2018) (abbreviated O&M 2018).

As expected, the first Y-DNA haplogroup of a sample from the North Pontic region (apart from an indigenous European I2 subclade) during its domination by the Yamna culture is of haplogroup R1b-L23, and it is dated ca. 2890-2696 BC. More specifically, it is of Z2103 subclade, the main lineage found to date in Yamna samples. The site in question is Dereivka, “in the southern part of the middle Dnieper, at the boundary between the forest-steppe and the steppe zones”.

NOTE: A bit of history for those lost here, which appear to be many: the classical Yamna culture – from previous late Khvalynsk, and (probably) Repin groupsspread west of the Don ca. 3300 BC creating a cultural-historical community – and also an early offshoot into Asia – , with mass migrations following some centuries later along the Danube to the Carpathian Basin, but also south into the Balkans, and north along the Prut. There is thus a very short time frame to find Yamna peoples shaping these massive migrations – the most likely speakers of Late Proto-Indo-European dialects – in Ukraine, compared to their most stable historical settlements east of the Don River.

There is no data on this individual in the supplementary material – since Eneolithic Dereivka samples come from stored dental remains – , but the radiocarbon date (if correct) is unequivocal: the Yamna cultural-historical community dominated over that region at that precise time. Why would the authors name it just “Ukraine_Eneolithic”? They surely took the assessment of archaeologists, and there is no data on it, so I agree this is the safest name to use for a serious paper. This would not be the first sample apparently too early for a certain culture (e.g. Catacomb in this case) which ends up being nevertheless classified as such. And it is also not impossible that it represents another close Ukraine Eneolithic culture, since ancestral cultural groups did not have borders…

NOTE. Why, on the other hand, was the sample from Zvejnieki – classified as of Latvia_LN – assumed to correspond to “Corded Ware” (like the recent samples from Plinkaigalis242 or Gyvakarai1), when we don’t have data on their cultures either? No conspiracy here, just taking assessments from different archaeologists in charge of these samples: those attributed to “Corded Ware” have been equally judged solely by radiocarbon date, but, combining the known archaeological signs of herding in the region arriving around this time with the old belief (similar to the “Iberia is the origin of Bell Beaker peoples” meme) that “only the Corded Ware culture signals the arrival of herding in the Baltic”. This assumption has been contested recently by Furholt, in an anthropological model that is now mainstream, upheld also by Anthony.

We already know that, out of three previous West Yamna samples, one shows Anatolian Neolithic ancestry, the so-called “Yamna outlier”. We also know that one sample from Yamna in Bulgaria also shows Anatolian Neolithic ancestry, with a distinct ‘southern’ drift, clustering closely to East Bell Beaker samples, as we can still see in Mathieson et al. (2018), see below. So, two “outliers” (relative to East Yamna samples) out of four samples… Now a new, fifth sample from Ukraine is another “outlier”, coinciding with (and possibly somehow late to be a part of) the massive migration waves into Central Europe and the Balkans predicted long ago by academics and now confirmed with Genomics.

I think there are two good explanations right now for its ancestral components and position in PCA:

Modified image from Mathieson et al. (2018), including also approximate location of groups from Mittnik et al. (2018), and group (transparent shape outlined by dots) formed by new Bell Beaker samples from Olalde et al. (2018). “Principal components analysis of ancient individuals. Points for 486 ancient individuals are projected onto principal components defined by 777 present-day west Eurasian individuals (grey points). Present-day individuals are shown.”

a) The most obvious one, that the Dnieper-Dniester territory must have been a melting pot, as I suggested, a region which historically connected steppe, forest steppe, and forest zone with the Baltic, as we have seen with early Baltic Neolithic samples (showing likely earlier admixture in the opposite direction). The Yamna population, a rapidly expanding “elite group of patrilineally-related families” (words from the famous 2015 genetic papers, not mine), whose only common genetic trait is therefore Y-DNA haplogroup R1b-L23, must have necessarily acquired other ancestral components of Eneolithic Ukraine during the migrations and settlements west of the Don River.

How many generations are needed for ancestral components and PCA clusters to change to that extent, in regions where only some patrilocal chiefs but indigenous populations remain, and the population probably admixed due to exogamy, back-migrations, and “resurge” events? Not many, obviously, as we see from the differences among the many Bell Beaker samples of R1b-L23 subclades from Olalde et al. (2018)

b) That this sample shows the first genetic sign of the precise population that contributed to the formation of the Catacomb culture. Since it is a hotly debated topic where and how this culture actually formed to gradually replace the Yamna culture in the central region of the Pontic-Caspian steppe, this sample would be a good hint of how its population came to be.

See e.g. for free articles on the Catacomb culture its article on the Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture, Catacomb culture wagons of the Eurasian steppes, or The Warfare of the Northern Pontic Steppe – Forest-Steppe Pastoral Societies: 2750 – 2000 B.C. There are also many freely available Russian and Ukrainian papers on anthropometry (a discipline I don’t especially like) which clearly show early radiocarbon dates for different remains.

This could then be not ‘just another West Yamna outlier’, but would actually show meaningful ‘resurge’ of Neolithic Ukraine ancestry in the Catacomb culture.

It could be meaningul to derive hypotheses, in the same way that the late Central European CWC sample from Esperstedt (of R1a-M417 subclade) shows recent exogamy directly from the (now more probably eastern part of the) steppe or steppe-forest, and thus implies great mobility among distant CWC groups. Although, given the BB samples with elevated steppe ancestry and close PCA cluster from Olalde et al. (2018), it could also just mean exogamy from a near-by region, around the Carpathian Basin where Yamna migrants settled…

If this was the case, it would then potentially mean a “continuity” break in the steppe, in the region that some looked for as a Balto-Slavic homeland, and which would have been only later replaced by Srubna peoples with steppe ancestry (and probably R1a-Z93 subclades). We would then be more obviously left with only two options: a hypothetic ‘Indo-Slavonic’ North Caspian group to the east (supported by Kortlandt), or a Central-East European homeland near Únětice, as one of the offshoots from the North-West Indo-European group (supported by mainstream Indo-Europeanists).

How to know which is the case? We have to wait for more samples in the region. For the moment, the date seems too early for the known radiocarbon dating of most archaeological remains of the Catacomb Culture.

Diachronic map of Late Copper Age migrations including steppe groups ca. 2600-2250 BC

An important consequence of the addition of these “Yamna outliers” for the future of research on Indo-European migrations is that, especially if confirmed as just another West Yamna sample – with more, similar samples – , early Palaeo-Balkan peoples migrating south of the Danube and later through Anatolia may need to be judged not only in terms of ancestral components or PCA (as in the paper on Minoans and Mycenaeans), but also and more decisively using phylogeography, especially with the earliest samples potentially connected with such migrations.

NOTE. Regarding the controversy (that some R1b European autochthonous continuists want to create) over the origin of the R1b-L151 lineages, we cannot state its presence for sure in Yamna territory right now, but we already have R1b-M269 in the eastern Pontic-Caspian steppe during the Neolithic-Chalcolithic transition, then R1b-L23 and subclades (mainly R1b-Z2013, but also one xZ2103, xL51 which suggests its expansion) in the region before and during the Yamna expansion, and now we have L51 subclades with elevated steppe ancestry in early East Bell Beakers, which most likely descended from Yamna settlers in the Carpathian Basin (yet to be sampled).

Even without express confirmation of its presence in the steppe, the alternative model of a Balkan origin seems unlikely, given the almost certain continuity of expanding Yamna clans as East Bell Beaker ones, in this clearly massive and relatively quick expansion that did not leave much time for founder effects. But, of course, it is not impossible to think about a previously hidden R1b-L151 community in the Carpathian Basin yet to be discovered, adopting North-West Indo-European (by some sort of founder effect) brought there by Yamna peoples of exclusively R1b-Z2103 lineages. As it is not impossible to think about a hidden and ‘magically’ isolated community of haplogroup R1a-M417 in Yamna waiting to be discovered…Just not very likely, either option.

As to why this sample or the other Bell Beaker samples “solve” the question of R1a-Z645 subclades (typical of Corded Ware migrants) not expanding with Yamna, it’s very simple: it doesn’t. What should have settled that question – in previous papers, at least since 2015 – is the absence of this subclade in elite chiefs of clans expanded from Khvalynsk, Yamna, or their only known offshoots Afanasevo and Bell Beaker. Now we only have still more proof, and no single ‘outlier’ in that respect.

No haplogroup R1a among hundreds of samples from a regionally extensive sampling of the only cultures mainstream archaeologists had thoroughly described as potentially representing Indo-European-speakers should mean, for any reasonable person (i.e. without a personal or professional involvement in an alternative hypothesis), that Corded Ware migrants (as expected) did not stem from Yamna, and thus did not spread Late Indo-European dialects.

This haplogroup’s hegemonic presence in North-Eastern Europe – and the lack of N1c lineages until after the Bronze Age – coinciding with dates when Uralicists have guesstimated Uralic dialectal expansion accross this wide region makes the question of the language spread with CWC still clearer. The only surprise would have been to find a hidden and isolated community of R1a-Z645 lineages clearly associated with the Yamna culture.

NOTE. A funny (however predictable) consequence for R1a autochthonous continuists of Northern or Eastern European ancestry: forum commentators are judging if this sample was of the Yamna culture or spoke Indo-European based on steppe component and PCA cluster of the few eastern Yamna samples which define now (you know, with the infallible ‘Yamnaya ancestral component’) the “steppe people” who spoke the “steppe language”™ – including, of course, North-Eastern European Late Neolithic

Not that radiocarbon dates or the actual origin of this sample cannot be wrong, mind you, it just strikes me how twisted such biased reasonings may be, depending on the specific sample at hand… Denial, anger, and bargaining, including shameless circular reasoning – we know the drill: we have seen it a hundred times already, with all kinds of supremacists autochthonous continuists who still today manage to place an oudated mythical symbolism on expanding Proto-Indo-Europeans, or on regional ethnolinguistic continuity…

More detailed posts on the new samples from O&M 2018 and their consequences for the Indo-European demic diffusion to come, indeed…

See also:

Olalde et al. and Mathieson et al. (Nature 2018): R1b-L23 dominates Bell Beaker and Yamna, R1a-M417 resurges in East-Central Europe during the Bronze Age

The official papers Olalde et al. (Nature 2018) and Mathieson et al. (Nature 2018) have appeared. They are based on the 2017 preprints at BioRxiv The Beaker Phenomenon And The Genomic Transformation Of Northwest Europe and The Genomic History Of Southeastern Europe respectively, but with a sizeable number of new samples.

Papers are behind a paywall, but here are the authors’ shareable links to read the papers and supplementary materials: Olalde et al. (2018), Mathieson et al. (2018).

NOTE: The corresponding datasets have been added to the Reich Lab website. Remember you can use my drafts on DIY Human Ancestry analysis (viz. Plink/Eigensoft, PCA, or ADMIXTURE) to investigate the data further in your own computer.

Image modified by me, from Olalde et al (2018). PCA of 999 Eurasian individuals. Marked is the late CWC outlier sample from Esperstedt, showing how early East Bell Beaker samples are the closest to Yamna samples.

I don’t have time to analyze the samples in detail right now, but in short they seem to convey the same information as before: in Olalde et al. (2018) the pattern of Y-DNA haplogroup and steppe ancestry distribution is overwhelming, with an all-R1b-L23 Bell Beaker people accompanying steppe ancestry into western Europe.

EDIT: In Mathieson et al. (2018), a sample classified as of Ukraine_Eneolithic from Dereivka ca. 2890-2696 BC is of R1b1a1a2a2-Z2103 subclade, so Western Yamna during the migrations also of R1b-L23 subclades, in contrast with the previous R1a lineages in Ukraine. In Olalde et al. (2018), it is clearly stated that of the four BB individuals with higher steppe ancestry, the two with higher coverage could be classified as of R1b-S116/P312 subclades.

This is compatible with the expansion of Indo-European-speaking Yamna migrants (also mainly of R1b-L23 subclades) into the East Bell Beaker group, as described with detail in Archaeology (and with the population movement we are seeing having been predicted) first by Volker Heyd in 2007.

Yamna – East Bell Beaker migration 3000-2300 BC. Adapted from Harrison and Heyd (2007), Heyd (2007)

Also, the resurge of R1a-Z645 subclades in Czech and Polish lands (from previous Corded Ware migrants) accompanying other lineages indigenous to the region – seems to have happened only after the Bell Beaker expansion into these territories, during the Bronze Age, probably leading to the formation of the Balto-Slavic community, as I predicted based on previous papers. The fact that a sample of R1b-U106 subclade pops up in this territory is interesting from the point of view of a shared substrate with Germanic, as is the earlier BB sample of R1b-Z2103 for its connection with Graeco-Aryan dialects.

All this suggests that a North-West Indo-European dialect – ancestor of Italo-Celtic, Germanic, and Balto-Slavic -, supported in Linguistics by most modern Indo-European schools of thought, expanded roughly along the Danube, and later to northern, eastern, and western Europe with the Bell Beaker expansion, as supported in Anthropology by Mallory (in Celtic from the West 2, 2013), and by Prescott for the development of a Nordic or Pre-Germanic language in Scandinavia since 1995.

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

Maybe more importantly, the fact that only Indo-Iranian-speaking Sintashta-Petrovka (and later Andronovo) cultures were clearly associated with R1a-Z645 subclades, and rather late – after mixing with early Chalcolithic North Caspian steppe groups (mainly East Yamna and Poltavka herders of R1b-L23 subclades) – gives support to the theory that Corded Ware (and probably the earlier Sredni Stog) groups did not speak or spread Indo-European languages with their migration, but most likely Uralic – as seen in recent papers on the much later arrival of haplogroup N1c – (compatible with the Corded Ware substrate hypothesis), adopting Indo-Iranian by way of cultural diffusion or founder effect events.

As Sheldon Cooper would say,

Under normal circumstances I’d say I told you so. But, as I have told you so with such vehemence and frequency already the phrase has lost all meaning. Therefore, I will be replacing it with the phrase, I informed you thusly

I informed you thusly:

Corded Ware culture contacts in the Baltic Sea region linked to immigrant potters


Article behind paywall Tracing grog and pots to reveal neolithic Corded Ware Culture contacts in the Baltic Sea region (SEM-EDS, PIXE) by Larsson et al., J. Archaeol. Sci. (2018) 91:77-91.

Abstract (emphasis mine):

The Neolithic Corded Ware Culture (CWC) complex spread across the Baltic Sea region ca. 2900/2800–2300/2000 BCE. Whether this cultural adaptation was driven by migration or diffusion remains widely debated. To gather evidence for contact and movement in the CWC material culture, grog-tempered CWC pots from 24 archaeological sites in southern Baltoscandia (Estonia and the southern regions of Finland and Sweden) were sampled for geochemical and micro-structural analyses. Scanning electron microscopy with energy dispersive spectrometry (SEM-EDS) and particle-induced X-ray emission (PIXE) were used for geochemical discrimination of the ceramic fabrics to identify regional CWC pottery-manufacturing traditions and ceramic exchange. Major and minor element concentrations in the ceramic body matrices of 163 individual vessels and grog temper (crushed pottery) present in the ceramic fabrics were measured by SEM-EDS. Furthermore, the high-sensitivity PIXE technique was applied for group confirmation. The combined pot and grog matrix data reveal eight geochemical clusters. At least five geochemical groups appeared to be associated with specific find locations and regional manufacturing traditions. The results indicated complex inter-site and cross-Baltic Sea pottery exchange patterns, which became more defined through the grog data, i.e., the previous generations of pots. The CWC pottery exhibited high technological standards at these latitudes, which, together with the identified exchange patterns and the existing evidence of mobility based on human remains elsewhere in the CWC complex, is indicative of the relocation of skilled potters, possibly through exogamy. An analytical protocol for the geochemical discrimination of grog-tempered pottery, and its challenges and possibilities, is presented.

Meolithic Corded Ware Culture sites studied in the Baltic Sea region

We are seeing a growing complexity for the definition of the Corded Ware culture in anthropological models that help us understand genomic data, including its precise origins and expansion, and indeed for the question of the expansion of ancient Uralic languages in the region.


The significance of the Tollense Valley in Bronze Age North-East Germany


An early Bronze Age causeway in the Tollense Valley, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania – The starting point of a violent conflict 3300 years ago?, by Jantzen et al. (BERICHT RGK 95, 2014).

Excerpt (emphasis mine):

The causeway in the Tollense Valley, built of timber, stones, turf and sand, and documented over a length of more than 100 m, represents a unique finding from northern Germany. For the first time, part of a Bronze Age network of land routes could be made visible in the southern Baltic area.

Together with the other evidence, the archaeological remains suggest the construction of elaborate trackways and, in some cases, even bridges in the Bronze Age. The Tollense Valley causeway can probably be attributed to the wish or the necessity to be able to cross the Tollense Valley regardless of weather and seasonally differing water level conditions. Its location, situated at a narrow section of the Tollense Valley, offered a prime position for the construction of a permanent crossing of the floodplain on the eastern bank. It is quite possible that a bridge was also part of this.

The complex causeway construction that was likely used and maintained for centuries suggests a significance of the crossing beyond just local. In this context, finds from the valley relating to Bronze Age metal crafts are of interest: along with the scrap metal hoard mentioned above found in the immediate area of the crossing, attention is drawn to a hoard from Golchen comprising an unusual accumulation of tools, as well as to two tin rings found in the same archaeological layer as the Bronze Age skeletal remains. These finds could indicate that metal crafts were of particular significance in the Tollense Valley and its surrounding areas. The middle section of the Tollense Valley that is the focus of attention here could have derived special significance from its role as a crossroads.

The documented pathway, which may have been the starting point of the violent conflict described above, not only contributes to the understanding of the entire findings and the reconstruction of the events in the early 13th century BCE in the Tollense Valley; its context also sheds new light on the cross-regional infrastructure of North-East Germany in the (Early) Bronze Age. Unfortunately, there currently is little further information to integrate it into the broader network of supraregional communication and traffic routes.

The region around the famous barrow of Seddin in Brandenburg is a further example for the significance of river systems for regional power and the exchange of goods. Similarly, the River Tollense could have played a role in the flow of commodities; the causeway at the Kessin 12 site offers a possible connection of the south-north water transportation route via the Tollense River to the Baltic Sea with an east-west land route linking the River Oder estuary region and the Mecklenburg Lake District.

The Lake District was of great importance from the Early Bronze Age; here independent bronze production was established early on. Diversity analyses indicate a shift of regions of innovation during the transition from the 3rd to the 2nd millennium BCE, as the southern Baltic Sea region and the region east of the river Oder clearly also became more important. Early Bronze Age imports from south-east Europe highlight the significance of the region west of the Oder estuary. The Tollense Valley likely played a role in connecting these areas. Therefore, the violent events in the Tollense Valley could also be seen as a result of its strategic significance for the power structure of North-East Germany and the regions on the southern Baltic coast during the Early Bronze Age.

Model of the Tollense Valley with the position of pathway (R. Scholz, using a digital model of the valley made by ArcTron [©]).

See also:

The concept of “Outlier” in Human Ancestry (III): Late Neolithic samples from the Baltic region and origins of the Corded Ware culture


I have written before about how the Late Neolithic sample from Zvejnieki seemed to be an outlier among Corded Ware samples (read also the Admixture analysis section on the IEDDM), due to its position in PCA, even more than its admixture components or statistical comparison might show.

In the recent update to Northern European samples in Mittnik et al. (2018), an evaluation of events similar to the previous preprint (2017) is given:

Computing D-statistics for each individual of the form D(Baltic LN, Yamnaya; X, Mbuti), we find that the two individuals from the early phase of the LN (Plinkaigalis242 and Gyvakarai1, dating to ca. 3200–2600 calBCE) form a clade with Yamnaya (Supplementary Table 7), consistent with the absence of the farmer-associated component in ADMIXTURE (Fig. 2b). Younger individuals share more alleles with Anatolian and European farmers (Supplementary Table 7) as also observed in contemporaneous Central European CWC individuals2.

Sampling locations and dating of 38 ancient Northern European samples introduced in this study. Chronology based on calibrated radiocarbon dates or relative dating

My interpretation of the Zvejnieki sample ca. 2880 BC (and thus also of the only Baltic LN sample forming a close cluster with it) as ‘outlier’ seems thus reinforced as more samples come in. My explanation based on exogamy is one possibility for the region. After all, great mobility and exogamy practices are universally accepted for the Corded Ware territory, and Yamna migrants had settled up along the Prut precisely around this period (ca. 3100-2900 BC), so this kind of relation between Yamna and Baltic samples is to be expected.

NOTE: Information on the Late Neolithic burial of Zvejnieki is scarce, since it is an isolated find in radiocarbon analysis, among Mesolithic burials. You can read more about it from Ilga Zagorska’s studies, such as The use of ochre in Stone Age burials of the East Baltic (2008), The persistent presence of the dead: recent excavations at the hunter-gatherer cemetery at Zvejnieki (Latvia) (Antiquity 2013), or Dietary freshwater reservoir effects and the radiocarbon ages of prehistoric human bones from Zvejnieki, Latvia (J. Archaeol. Sci. 2016).

Samples of Baltic “Late Neolithic / Corded Ware culture”

The only two samples clustering more closely to Yamna cluster also closely to the three previous samples from Khvalynsk in Samara (labelled ‘Steppe Eneolithic’ in the paper), which makes one wonder how strongly connected were cultures from the forest and forest-steppe zones before the expansion of Corded Ware and Yamna settlers.

NOTE: Apart from the scarcity of samples available, which is common in genetic studies, the description of both additional ‘outlier’ samples of the Baltic Late Neolithic – isolated finds based mainly on radiocarbon analysis – leaves a lot to the imagination, because of the lack of cultural context and potential problems with dating methods:

Plinkaigalis 242, >40 year old female (OxA-5936, 4280 ± 75 BP, 3260–2630 calBCE). The burial site is located in the plains of central Lithuania on the eastern bank of the river Šušvė on the outskirts of the Plinkaigalis village, approximately 400 m southeast of an Iron age hill fort and settlement. The burial site was discovered in 1975 when local residents started digging for gravel in the western part of the hill. The same year site was granted a legal protection with archaeological excavations carried out for eight straight years in a row (1977-1984). During the eight years of fieldwork a total of 373 graves (364 inhumation and 9 cremation graves) with all but two of them dating to 3rd to 8th c. AD were uncovered. The two exceptional graves (no. 241, 242) were uncovered in the northern part of the burial site and C14 dated to the Late Neolithic.

Gyvakarai 1, 35-40 year old male (Poz-61584, 4030 ± 30 BP, 2620–2470 calBCE). The burial site is located in the northern part of Lithuania on the steep gravelly bank (elevation up to 79 m a. s. l.) of the rivulet Žvikė, 500 m to the south from where, in the wet grassland valley, it meets the main stem river Pyvesa. The site was discovered in 2000 when local residents started digging for gravel in the central part of the gravelly bank. The same year rescue excavations were conducted in the surrounding area of the highly disturbed grave resulting in discovery of a single grave C14 dated to the Late Neolithic.

EDIT (16 FEB 2018): A commentator noted that Gyvakaray1 was also studied for Yersinia pestis, a disease which appears to have expanded first to the west from the steppe, and then to the east, so it is possible that its position in PCA related to Plinkaigalis242 shows a connection to late Yamna settlers or East Bell Beaker migrants.

File modified by me from Mittnik et al. (2018) to include the approximate position of the most common ancestral components, and an identification of potential outliers. Zoomed-in version of the European Late Neolithic and Bronze Age samples. “Principal components analysis of 1012 present-day West Eurasians (grey points, modern Baltic populations in dark grey) with 294 projected published ancient and 38 ancient North European samples introduced in this study (marked with a red outline).

NOTE: I haven’t had the time and patience to work with my virtual computer on the PCA of these new samples – my CPU is reaching everyday its limit and my fans work half the time – , so I don’t know exactly which of them is Plinkaigalis242 and which Gyvakarai1, I just made a wild guess (based on ADMIXTURE) that the earlier Plinkaigalis242 forms a common ‘outlier’ group with Zvejnieki; if they are reversed or otherwise wrong in the image, please correct me. It will be much appreciated.

We can see from the additional samples in Mittnik et al. (2018) that the common cluster formed by most Baltic LN samples in PCA (most of them with clear cultural context among Late Neolithic or Corded Ware material, unlike the two ‘outliers’ and Gyvakarai1) is among Ukraine Eneolithic samples, European Corded Ware samples, and also Mesolithic-Neolithic samples from the Baltic. This is a logical find in light of the mainstream opinion that the expansion of the third horizon of the Corded Ware culture seems to have begun in the Dnieper-Dniester region (a corridor of steppe, steppe-forest, and forest zones) ca. 3300 BC.

PCA and ADMIXTURE analysis reflecting three time periods in Northern European prehistory. a Principal components analysis of 1012 present-day West Eurasians (grey points, modern Baltic populations in dark grey) with 294 projected published ancient and 38 ancient North European samples introduced in this study (marked with a red outline). Population labels of modern West Eurasians are given in Supplementary Fig. 7 and a zoomed-in version of the European Late Neolithic and Bronze Age samples is provided in Supplementary Fig. 8. b Ancestral components in ancient individuals estimated by ADMIXTURE (k = 11)

Corded Ware culture origins

If we take the most recent reliable radiocarbon analyses of material culture, and interpretations based on them of Corded Ware as a ‘complex’ similar to Bell Beaker (accepted more and more by disparate academics such as Anthony or Klejn), it seems that the controversial ‘massive’ Corded Ware migration must have begun somehow later than previously thought, which leaves these early Baltic samples still less clearly part of the initial Corded Ware culture, and more as outliers waiting for a more precise cultural context among Late Neolithic changes in the region.

Their situation in PCA among Khvalynsk (Samara), Baltic Mesolithic, East Hunger-Gatherer samples, Yamna and Eneolithic Ukraine leaves us without enough information to understand their actual origin.

EDIT (3 FEB 2018): In the first edition of my IEDDM paper I based the potential expansion of the Corded Ware culture mainly on Piezonka’s detailed analyses of the evolution of Mesolithic and Neolithic cultures in the forest-steppe and Forest Zone, and on later phylogeographic finds, since there were no samples from these regions in this interesting period. I revised it in the second edition to accomodate the model to the Indo-Uralic proto-language supported by the Leiden school, and identified it with a a close Neolithic-Chalcolithic steppe community based on common language guesstimates and – after the latest revision of Mathieson et al. (2017) – on the appearance of steppe admixture in the steppe.

However, if traditional Uralicists are right in supposing a loose Neolithic community in the Forest Zone, and Kristiansen is right in supposing long-lasting contacts in the Dniester-Dnieper region, we might actually be seeing with these ‘outliers’ the first proof that Neolithic samples from the forest-steppe and Forest Zone of the 4th millenium – unrelated to the Corded Ware culture – clustered closely to Khvalynsk, Sredni Stog, or Yamna samples, which is compatible with Piezonka’s accounts of intercultural contacts.

Martin Furholt‘s assessment of the origin of the A-horizon of the Corded Ware culture would put the early dates of Late Neolithic in the Baltic coinciding with or just before the initial expansion of Corded Ware migrants. For example, here are some excerpts (emphasis mine) from Re-evaluating Corded Ware Variability in Late Neolithic Europe (2014), in Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society (you can read it free at

Radiocarbon analysis

Acceptance of the results of radiometric dating meant that the concept of the so called ‘A-Horizon’ also had to be reformulated. If we are dealing with such a phase at all, it is not a classic typological period that is defined by a uniform material culture inventory, but rather a set of types which show a wide distribution, but which are always integrated into a locally specific and thus regionally variable context.

The situation resembles that of the Bell Beakers, where a few supra-regional types are associated with local forms of ‘Begleitkeramik’ (i.e. pottery that accompanies Bell Beakers: Strahm 1995; Besse 1996).

The distribution data indicate that this set of forms (namely the A-Beaker, ‘A-Amphora’, and A-Battle Axe, as well as Herringbone-decorated Beakers) was to be found over much of Europe around 2700 BC, and that the currency of these forms was not short: they seem to have been used continuously during the Final Neolithic, perhaps even until 2000 BC (Fig. 3; Furholt 2004). Analysis of the radiometric and dendrochronological determinations also indicates that the A-Horizon is not the earliest Corded Ware phase. Instead, it appears to follow an apparent earlier phase in Poland during which Corded Ware pottery was in use from as early as 2900 BC (Furholt 2003; 2008a; Wödarczak 2006; Ullrich 2008).

Chronological model following from radiocarbon dating. Mark the contrast to the traditional model of the A-horizon as the earliest phase and a successive increase in regional variability later on

Corded Ware and Yamna/Bell Beaker

While widening networks and a change in the mechanism of exchange appears to have contributed to the emergence of the Corded Ware archaeological phenomenon, and also the contemporaneous Yamnaya graves (Harrison & Heyd 2007) and the following Bell Beaker and Early Bronze Age phenomena, it remains to be seen exactly what factors contributed to the development of these systems. It may be that there were changes in subsistence practices, perhaps involving a rising importance of animal herding that subsequently required higher mobility (for a discussion see Dörfler & Müller 2008), but considering the obvious diversity in subsistence patterns present in different Corded Ware groups, such an explanation would seem appropriate for the transformation in some regions, but surely not for the eastern hunterfisher-gatherer groups of the Baltic (Bläuer & Kantanen 2013). Also, trade with amber and copper might have played its role, but there are so far no indications for a significant rise in quantity or reach of these two materials in connection with Corded Ware graves or settlements (Furholt 2003, 125–7).

The impacts of animal traction and the wagon are also to be taken into account, as they are present since 3400 BC (Mischka 2011) but does at least not play any visible role in Corded Ware burial rituals, very much in contrast to the previous periods (Johannsen & Laursen 2010). There is no evidence for horse riding, but the domesticated horse seems to be present in central Europe since before 3000 BC (Becker 1999) and have also been found in Corded Ware settlements (Becker 2008), but again the evidence of domesticated horses is much more abundant in the period before 3000 BC.

So, concerning amber and copper exchange, or the impact of the wheel and animal traction, there is the recurrent motive of stronger evidence for the period before 3000 BC than during or in connection to Corded Ware finds after 2700 BC.

Summary table for the chronological positions (extent of name plus vertical lines) of the most important traditional archaeological ‘cultures’, ‘Groups’ or pottery styles discussed in this paper. Note that the definitions of those units are far from consistent or comparable, because they derive from different national and regional research traditions. Bold letters indicate a unit connected to the Corded Ware phenonomenon


The evidence strongly points towards a long period of coalescence from 3000 to 2700 BC, when several innovations in burial customs, pottery, and tool types sprung forth from different places and subsequently spread via different networks of exchange and interaction. These surely showed a significant rise in scale, reach, and impact on local practices, but the same is true for the contemporary Globular Amphora and Yamnaya ‘Cultures’. This exchange resulted, roughly spoken, in a phenomenon like the A-Horizon.


Thus, it seems reasonable to explain the wide regional reach of those Corded Ware elements as the result of a general increase in mobility and thus an increase in the spatial extension of regional networks, triggered by the long-term effects of technological innovations and connected economic and social transformations in Europe since 3400 BC. It is the increase in mobility and regional networks that is new to the European Neolithic Societies after this time, and it is not only the Corded Ware elements, that are spread through these channels but also Yamnaya, Globular Amphorae, Bell Beaker ‘Cultures’, and copper and bronze artefacts in later periods. Those are archaeological classification units, heuristic tools for the ordering of finds, while brushing over variability and overlapping traits, and so they should not be confused with real social groups.

Network analysis based on the quantitative occurrence of Corded Ware pottery forms, pottery ornamentation styles, tools, weapons and ornaments as stated in Table 1, based on the catalogues given in Table 2, line thickness representing similarity

As a summary, we can say that there is still much work to be done on the origins and expansion of the Corded Ware culture, and that speculative interpretations of recent genetic papers (especially since 2015), based solely on scarce genetic finds, are not doing much in favour of sound anthropological models by connecting directly Yamna to Corded Ware (and the latter to Bell Beaker), as the multiple new anthropological ‘steppe’ models (and their unending revisions due to the gradual corrections from ‘Yamnaya’ to ‘steppe’ admixture in genetic papers) are showing.

Featured image, from Furholt’s article: Map of the Corded Ware regions discussed for central Europe. The dark shading indicates those regions where Corded Ware burial rituals are present regularly.


mtDNA haplogroup frequency analysis from Verteba Cave supports a strong cultural frontier between farmers and hunter-gatherers in the North Pontic steppe


New preprint paper at BioRxiv, led by a Japanese researcher, with analysis of mtDNA of Trypillians from Verteba Cave, Analysis of ancient human mitochondrial DNA from Verteba Cave, Ukraine: insights into the origins and expansions of the Late Neolithic-Chalcolithic Cututeni-Tripolye Culture, by Wakabayashi et al. (2017).


Background: The Eneolithic (~5,500 yrBP) site of Verteba Cave in Western Ukraine contains the largest collection of human skeletal remains associated with the archaeological Cucuteni-Tripolye Culture. Their subsistence economy is based largely on agro-pastoralism and had some of the largest and most dense settlement sites during the Middle Neolithic in all of Europe. To help understand the evolutionary history of the Tripolye people, we performed mtDNA analyses on ancient human remains excavated from several chambers within the cave.

Results: Burials at Verteba Cave are largely commingled and secondary in nature. A total of 68 individual bone specimens were analyzed. Most of these specimens were found in association with well-defined Tripolye artifacts. We determined 28 mtDNA D-Loop (368 bp) sequences and defined 8 sequence types, belonging to haplogroups H, HV, W, K, and T. These results do not suggest continuity with local pre-Eneolithic peoples, but rather complete population replacement. We constructed maximum parsimonious networks from the data and generated population genetic statistics. Nucleotide diversity (π) is low among all sequence types and our network analysis indicates highly similar mtDNA sequence types for samples in chamber G3. Using different sample sizes due to the uncertainly in number of individuals (11, 28, or 15), we found Tajima’s D statistic to vary. When all sequence types are included (11 or 28), we do not find a trend for demographic expansion (negative but not significantly different from zero); however, when only samples from Site 7 (peak occupation) are included, we find a significantly negative value, indicative of demographic expansion.

Conclusions: Our results suggest individuals buried at Verteba Cave had overall low mtDNA diversity, most likely due to increased conflict among sedentary farmers and nomadic pastoralists to the East and North. Early Farmers tend to show demographic expansion. We find different signatures of demographic expansion for the Tripolye people that may be caused by existing population structure or the spatiotemporal nature of ancient data. Regardless, peoples of the Tripolye Culture are more closely related to early European farmers and lack genetic continuity with Mesolithic hunter-gatherers or pre-Eneolithic groups in Ukraine.

Genetic finds keep supporting the long-lasting cultural and linguistic frontier that Anthony (2007) – among others – asserted existed in the North-West Pontic steppe in the Mesolithic and Neolithic, between western steppe cultures and farmers, while it disproves Kristiansen’s theories of Sredni Stog expansion in Kurgan waves with a mixture of GAC and Trypillia within the Corded Ware culture:

Previous ancient DNA studies showed that hunter-gatherers before 6,500 yrBP in Europe commonly had haplogroups U, U4, U5, and H, whereas hunter-gatherers after 6,500 yrBP in Europe had less frequency of haplogroup H than before. Haplogroups T and K appeared in hunter-gatherers only after 6,500 yrBP, indicating a degree of admixture in some places between farmers and hunter-gatherers. Farmers before and after 6,500 yrBP in Europe had haplogroups W, HV*, H, T, K, and these are also found in individuals buried at Verteba Cave. Therefore, our data point to a common ancestry with early European farmers. Our data also suggest population replacement. Mathieson et al. analyzed a number of Neolithic Ukrainian samples (petrous bone) from several sites in southern, northern, and western Ukraine, dating to ~8,500 – 6,000 yrBP, and found exclusively U (U4 and U5) mtDNA lineages. It should be noted that ‘Neolithic’ in this context does not mean the adoption of agriculture, but rather simply coinciding with a change in material culture. They also analyzed several Trypillian individuals from Verteba Cave (different samples from the those included in this study). Similar to our findings, they found a wider diversity of mtDNA lineages, including H, HV, and T2b. These data, combined with our results, appear to confirm almost complete population replacement by individuals associated with the Tripolye Culture during the Middle to Late Neolithic.

The findings also hint to potential contacts of Yamna with Usatovo as predicted by Anthony (2007), or alternatively (lacking precise dates) to contacts with Corded Ware migrants:

Trypillians were very much a distinct people who most likely displaced 1 local hunter-gatherers with little admixture. Haplogroup W was also observed in several specimens deriving from Site G3. Although we are unsure if all of these haplogroups come from a single or multiple individuals, this observation is interesting in that it is relatively rare and isolated among Neolithic samples. It has, however, been found in samples dating to the Bronze Age. In the study by Wilde et al. [35], they found haplogroup W present in two samples from the Early Bronze Age associated with the Yamnaya and Usatovo cultures. The Usatovo culture (~ 3500 – 2500 BC) was found in Romania, Moldova, and southern Ukraine. It was the conglomeration of Tripolye and North Pontic steppe cultures. Therefore, this individual could link the Trypillian peoples to the Usatovo peoples and perhaps to the greater Yamnaya steppe migrations during the Bronze Age that lead to the Corded Ware Culture.

On the other hand, an article written in terms of mtDNA haplogroup frequencies seems to offer too little proof of anything today. The lack of Y-DNA haplogroups and data on admixture makes their interpretations provisional, subject to change when these further data are published. Also, radiocarbon dating is only confident for individuals of one site (site 7), dated ca. 5,500 cal BP, while “other chambers in the cave are not as confidently dated”…

“Based on the 8 sequence types of the mtDNA D-loop, a maximum parsimonious phylogenetic network was constructed. Circles represent the sequence types, and the size of the circle is proportional to the number of samples. Numbers on the branches between the circles are nucleotide position numbers (+16,000) of the human mitochondrial genome sequence (rCRS). Information about the location (chamber within the cave) where the specimen was excavated is also provided. Areas 2 and 17 are part of Site 7, and these are defined as a separate chamber, although they are located in close proximity within Site 7. The other chambers, Site 20, G2, and G3, are independent and separate locations within the cave. ‘Undefined’ chamber describes an unknown location within the cave. Specimens from each chamber showed deviation for the sequence type distribution observed in the sample set. For example, specimens excavated from Site 7 had five unique sequence types, (I, II, III, IV, and VIII), while specimens excavated from chamber G 21 had mainly one sequence type (V)”. Made available by the authors under a CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International license.

We had also seen signs of conflict between Trypillian and steppe cultures in a recent article, Violence at Verteba Cave, Ukraine: New Insights into the Late Neolithic Intergroup Conflict, by Madden et al. (2017):

Many researchers have pointed to the huge “megasites” and construction of fortifications as evidence of intergroup hostilities among the Late Neolithic Tripolye archaeological culture. However, to date, very few skeletal remains have been analyzed for the types of traumatic injury that serve as direct evidence for violent conflict. In this study, we examine trauma on human remains from the Tripolye site of Verteba Cave in western Ukraine. The remains of 36 individuals, including 25 crania, were buried in the gypsum cave as secondary interments. The frequency of cranial trauma is 30-44% among the 25 crania, six males, four females and one adult of indeterminate sex displayed cranial trauma. Of the 18 total fractures, 10 were significantly large and penetrating suggesting lethal force. Over half of the trauma is located on the posterior aspect of the crania, suggesting the victims were attacked from behind. Sixteen of the fractures observed were perimortem and two were antemortem. The distribution and characteristics of the fractures suggest that some of the Tripolye individuals buried at Verteba Cave were victims of a lethal surprise attack. Resources were limited due to population growth and migration, leading to conflict over resource access. It is hypothesized that during this time of change burial in this cave aided in development of identity and ownership of the local territory.


Correlation does not mean causation: the damage of the ‘Yamnaya ancestral component’, and the ‘Future American’ hypothesis

New Ukraine Eneolithic sample from late Sredni Stog, near homeland of the Corded Ware culture

The concept of “outlier” in studies of Human Ancestry, and the Corded Ware outlier from Esperstedt

Marija Gimbutas and the expansion of the “Kurgan people” based on tumulus-building cultures

Our monograph on North-West Indo-European (first draft) is out

I wrote yesterday about the recently updated Indo-European demic diffusion model.

Fernando López-Menchero and I have published our first draft on the North-West Indo-European proto-language. Our contribution concerns mainly phonetics, and namely two of its most controversial aspects: a common process of laryngeal loss and two series of velars for PIE.

There is also an updated linguistic model for the Corded Ware substrate hypothesis, which seeks to explain certain similarities between Germanic and Balto-Slavic, and between Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian, and potential isoglosses between the three.

Available links:

As you probably know, our interest is (and has been for the past 15 years or so, even before our common project) the reconstruction of a North-West Indo-European proto-language, the ancestor of Italo-Celtic, Germanic, and Balto-Slavic. At least since Krahe’s proposal of an Alteuropäische substrate to European hydronymy, some 70 years ago, Indo-Europeanists have been supporting an Old European branch of Proto-Indo-European.

Root *sal-, *salm in European river names. Krahe (1949). From Wikipedia.

However, dialectal divisions were tentative. Since Oettinger, some 30 years ago, we have a clearer picture of a group of closely related dialects, namely Italo-Celtic, Germanic, and Balto-Slavic. Although the nature of Balto-Slavic is somehow contended (for the few scholars who support an Indo-Slavonic group), the minimalist view holds that at least the substrate language of Baltic and Slavic, Holzer‘s Temematic, was part of the North-West Indo-European group.

A North-West Indo-European (NWIE) proto-language not only solved the controversial question of Pan-European IE hydronymy (clearly of Late Indo-European nature), but also – and more elegantly – the question on the origin of the many fragmentary languages attested in Western Europe, usually attributed to a “Pre-Celtic” or “Pre-Italic” nature depending on their surrounding languages (Venetic has even said to be related to Germanic…).

Stages of Proto-Indo-European evolution. IU: Indo-Uralic; PU: Proto-Uralic; PAn: Pre-Anatolian; PToch: Pre-Tocharian; Fin-Ugr: Finno-Ugric. The period between Balkan IE and Proto-Greek could be divided in two periods: an older one, called Proto-Greek (close to the time when NWIE was spoken), probably including Macedonian, and spoken somewhere in the Balkans; and a more recent one, called Mello-Greek, coinciding with the classically reconstructed Proto-Greek, already spoken in the Greek peninsula (West 2007). Similarly, the period between Northern Indo-European and North-West Indo-European could be divided, after the split of Pre-Tocharian, into a North-West Indo-European proper, during the expansion of Yamna to the west, and an Old European period, coinciding with the formation and expansion of the East Bell Beaker group.

Described first mainly in terms of lexical isoglosses, the concept of a NWIE language was then gradually and strongly founded in common grammatical features, contributed to mainly by the German, North American, and Spanish schools (as you know, the British or French schools are quite divided on the nature of Proto-Indo-European itself…). Recent archaeological models pioneered by Harrison and Heyd (2007) showed how this might have happened, with Yamna migrants that evolved as the East Bell Beaker group, and their subsequent expansion into most of Europe.

Genetics is now clearly supporting such a closely related group, too.

Yamna – East Bell Beaker migration 3000-2300 BC according to Heyd in Harrison and Heyd (2007).

The work of Prescott and Walderhaug (1995) on the Pre-Germanic homeland, and the more precise archaeological migration model developed by Prescott clearly established the advent of Bell Beakers in Scandinavia as the key factor for the development of a unitary Pre-Germanic language in Scandinavia during the Dagger Period of the Nordic Late Neolithic.

The nature of Únětice and Mierzanowice/Nitra cultures as of Bell Beaker absorption of preceding Corded Ware cultures made the identification of the Balto-Slavic homeland in the Lusatian culture as quite likely – and this is now being confirmed with the study of Bronze Age samples, like those of the Tollense battlefield, which cluster closely to West Slavic and East German samples.

At the time of Marija Gimbutas’ breakthrough model of the “kurgan peoples” a common dialect from this Old European branch was deemed to be ‘Northern European‘ (or ‘Germano-Balto-Slavic’), which greatly influenced her work, supporting an identification of different burial types as stemming from the same source. This model, rejected already some years after Gimbutas’ proposal, has sadly survived to this day because of tradition (due e.g. to the work and influence of Kristiansen, and to some extent Anthony), and for some years (until the advent of ancient DNA) because of the modern distribution of haplogroup R1a in Europe and its relation to the ancient distribution of the Corded Ware culture.

This traditional model of a ‘Corded Ware -> Bell Beaker expansion of NWIE’ which we also followed until recently, never fit well with the known migrations paths from Yamna (into Balkan Early Bronze Age cultures), with the geographic distribution of Old European hydronymy, or with the guesstimates for Late Indo-European and North-West Indo-European. This compelled us to support a break-up of the proto-language further back in time than warranted by models of language change, and it needed certain unlikely cultural diffusion events over huge areas (because no such migration from Yamna to northern Europe has been attested): along the steppe/forest-steppe zone first, for a diffusion from Yamna into Corded Ware cultures, and along the Danube or the Rhine later, for a diffusion of Corded Ware into Bell Beaker. These models were also based on the wrong interpretation of the first radiocarbon dates of Beakers – placing an origin of the Bell Beaker people in Iberia (which has been rejected in Archaeology, and now also in Genetics).

Such a ‘Germano-Balto-Slavic’ group faded in Linguistics long ago, with most Indo-Europeanists preferring to talk about late contacts (viz. Celto-Germanic or Italo-Germanic contacts), and for some there is – if any subgroup at all – a core West Indo-European or Italo-Celto-Germanic group, which may be supported by recent genetic research on Bell Beaker peoples, with the Beaker group of the Netherlands being the key. Our research on the potential language spoken by Corded Ware peoples – most likely related to Uralic, from an Indo-Uralic community from the Pontic-Caspian steppe – can elegantly explain the isoglosses that both European dialects share.

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

Read also: Schleicher’s Fable in Proto-Indo-European – pitch and stress accent


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Germanic–Balto-Slavic and Satem (‘Indo-Slavonic’) dialect revisionism by amateur geneticists, or why R1a lineages *must* have spoken Proto-Indo-European


I feel there has recently been an increase in references to quite old – and generally outdated – terms, such as Germano-Balto-Slavic and “Indo-Slavonic” (i.e. Satem), described as Late Indo-European dialects. This is happening in forums and blogs that deal with “Indo-European genetics”, and only marginally (if at all) with the main anthropological subjects that form Indo-European studies, that is Linguistics and Archaeology.

Firstly, let me go apparently against the very aim of this post, by supporting the common traits that these dialects actually share.

Satem Indo-European or Indo-Slavonic

Balto-Slavic is a complex dialect, whose known proto-history and history offers already a difficult picture. Contrary to the opinion of many, there is no single document that can identify the terms Antes, Sklavenes, and Venedi with the cultures that are usually identified as speaking languages ancestral to East Slavic, South Slavic, and West Slavic . These names were used interchangeably in the Byzantine Empire, which was obviously not involved in classifying Slavic peoples by their linguistic branches… For more on the historical identification of Slavic tribes, read Florin Curta‘s The Making of the Slavs: History and Archaeology of the Lower Danube Region, c. 500-700 A.D. On the identification of potential candidates for early Slavic and Baltic cultures, you can read the appropriate entries in the Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture, by Mallory & Adams.

Baltic and Slavic tribes seem to have a too recently recorded history to be able to confidently trace back their cultural predecessors. In its recent history, close to the formation of its community, Proto-Slavic must have had intense contacts with Iranian-speaking peoples. Also, previously, if R1a-M417 subclades are in fact the most common lineages expanded with the Corded Ware culture (as it seems now), they have no doubt shared a common language, most likely a non-Indo-European one. Not Indo-European in the strict sense, at least, since it formed part most likely of the Indo-Uralic continuum that must have been spoken during the Mesolithic in Eastern Europe, and a language probably nearer to Uralic than to classic Indo-European.

A strong connection between Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian in a common Satem branch, as supported by Kortlandt (see e.g. Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian 2016, or a reconstruction of Schleicher’s Fable in PIE branches), would imply that a Corded Ware culture from the Dnieper-Donets – speaking a Graeco-Aryan dialect – interacted for centuries with Uralic and other Graeco-Aryan languages, only later influenced by North-West Indo-European (as late as its contact with East Germanic during the Barbarian migration). This model cannot justify the shared traits of Balto-Slavic with North-West Indo-European, unless a third, substrate language – like Holzer’s (1989) Temematic proposal – is added to the equation. Such models are not impossible, but seem too complex.

On the other hand, linguistically Balto-Slavic seems to have split in its known branches quite early, and traits such as the satemization trend appear to have affected each main dialect (Baltic and Slavic) differently, as attested in the different ruki development, hence the assumption of its early but different influence of the trend to both Indo-Iranian and Balto-Slavic (or, more exactly, Indo-Iranian, Baltic, and Slavic). Also, the common North-West Indo-European vocabulary, as well as morphological trends shared by NW IE dialects, clearly affects the oldest layer of both languages (hence the parent Proto-Balto-Slavic too), which predates thus the satemization trend, and further contributes to the idea of a common root between West Indo-European (or Italo-Celtic), Northern Indo-European (the language ancestral to Pre-Germanic), and Proto-Balto-Slavic.

Germano-Balto-Slavic or North European

A common group between Germanic and Balto-Slavic is justified by the presence of certain common isoglosses, such as the famous shared oblique cases in *-m- instead of *-bh-, and support for such a group is found recently e.g. in Gramkelidze-Ivanov (1993-1994) – who nevertheless support a North-West Indo-European continuum -, or in Jasanoff, for whom both languages (regarding phonological traits) “began their post-IE history together”.

Proto-Indo-European language tree, including early (Indo-Hittite) and late (European) stages by Trager & Smith (1950). From the paper On the Origin of North Indo-European, Gimbutas (1952)

On the other hand, such shared traits could have derived either from old contacts – supported traditionally because of their proximity -, or by a common substrate to both without a need for direct contacts, as supported by Kortlandt in Baltic, Slavic, Germanic (2016), among others).

The fact that there might have been a different, third language involved – the hypothetic Temematic substrate language to Balto-Slavic, potentially nearer to Baltic because of the stronger superstrate influence in Slavic – further complicates the dialectal identification of Baltic and Slavic – that is, if one supports a common Germanic and Balto-Slavic group.

This Northern group was supported by Gimbutas (1952) based on a previous linguistic paper by Trager & Smith (1950) – published in the infancy of dialectal PIE differentiation -, but this model is not mainstream nowadays. The linguistic model followed by Anthony (based on Ringe, Warnow, and Taylor 2002), did not link Germanic to Balto-Slavic (or to Italo-Celtic, for that sake) more than to any other dialect, but it seems that the three might have spread from the same western (Repin-derived) Yamna region, according to their maps. See for example their recent article The Indo-European Homeland from Linguistic and Archaeological Perspectives, which sums up and partly corrects Anthony’s detailed account of steppe migrations in the already classic book The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World (2007). Dialectal groups and implications are unclear from their publications, with changing linguistic schemes since 2007, but with a quite stable archaeological framework.

Dialectal Late Indo-European

I am not implying that a common group of Balto-Slavic with Indo-Aryan (or of Germanic with Balto-Slavic) is fully discarded by linguistics: history and archaeology can indeed support a close interaction between these languages, and there has been historically some support to the inclusion of Balto-Slavic within a Graeco-Aryan group. However, Linguistics and Archaeology are each day more supportive of the association of Italo-Celtic with Germanic in a North-West Indo-European group, and Balto-Slavic with them (Oettinger 1997). See for example any recent article or book by Mallory, Adams, Beekes, Adrados, etc., or if you prefer, refer to the mainstream models followed by scholars in the German, Spanish, Leiden, or American schools. As you probably know, Clackson for the British school supports an abstract “constellation analogy” model for the language reconstruction, and the French school is dominated by archaeologist Jean Paul Demoule’s rejection of a Proto-Indo-European community; both schools, as you can imagine, will have to revise their theories in light of recent genetic studies…

Regarding Archaeology, North-West Indo-European must have expanded with the westward Yamna expansion, i.e. associated with the Bell Beaker expansion. That was supported in mainstream Archaeology before the most recent genetic studies.

Even Anthony (2007), who has related the Corded Ware culture to the expansion of Indo-European languages through cultural diffusion, recognizing the expansion of Yamna migrants to the west (identifying them with Italo-Celtic and Proto-Greek speakers), has to offer two or three separate cultural diffusion events (!), whereby Pre-Germanic, Proto-Balto-Slavic, and Proto-Indo-Iranian had been learned by the influence of the Yamna culture on neighbouring (unrelated) peoples of Corded Ware cultures: in Central European – Single Grave culture (from Pre-Germanic Usatovo), Middle Dnieper culture (from Balto-Slavic in the Contact Zone), and Potapovka (from Poltavka) cultures, respectively. No actual spread or migration from Yamna into Corded Ware has been supported since Gimbutas.

Balto-Slavic is indeed a complex group of languages – with some supporting (since Toporov and Ivanov proposal in the 1960s) three dialectal groups, composed of East Baltic, West Baltic, and Slavic branches (thus implying an older split of Baltic). Because of the close interaction of eastern Europe with Eurasian invasions, the nature of their language won’t probably ever be solved. Genetics is not the savior that overcomes these difficulties; so long it has only brought more (albeit no doubt interesting) questions, and even though their correct interpretation might offer some new light, we will be far from obtaining a clear picture of the cultural and linguistic development of Proto-Baltic and Proto-Slavic communities.

What I am criticizing here, therefore, is this recent revisionist trend whereby PIE must have been spoken by R1a-Z645 lineages, a trend found not only among amateur geneticists. I am beginning to think – judging from online comments, posts or tweets – that this trend is becoming stronger as a reaction to the fact that not a single R1a-Z645 sample has been found in Yamna or its expansion. These new revisionist models depict a common group of R1a-Z645 lineages hidden somewhere in the steppe, sharing some sort of Indo-Germanic (??) group, or argue for a shared Late PIE community without dialectal divisions, to justify its potential find somewhere marginal to the PIE territory, and then a later development of Corded Ware into Bell Beaker cultures (and, it is implied, peoples).

While not impossible, these are unlikely models, not based on knowledge but on wishes, since linguistic data strongly suggest a North-West Indo-European dialect including Italo-Celtic, Germanic, and (at the very least in its substrate and thus western R1a lineages) Balto-Slavic, and archaeological findings don’t show any meaningful population exchange between Corded Ware and Yamna… That is, it hadn’t until after the first famous papers on the so-called ‘steppe admixture’ of 2015, when (surprise!) Kristiansen has already jumped on the bandwagon (and Anthony seems to be beginning to suggest the same) of previously discarded Yamna -> Corded Ware, and Corded Ware -> Bell Beaker migrations.

Not a single serious researcher can deny that a hidden community of R1a-417 in Yamna is possible. But no one should support that it is the most likely explanation to the current genetic picture, whether based on Linguistic, Archaeology, Anthropology, or Genetics (be it phylogeography or admixture analyses).

I think this recent trend must therefore be the fruit of the influence of previous, deeply entrenched concepts regarding the Corded Ware culture and its link with Proto-Indo-European. These concepts are based on Gimbutas’ Kurgan model, Anthony’s revision of it – explaining the expansion as multiple cultural diffusions (thus renewing Gimbutas’ claim) -, and early studies of modern populations’ haplogroups. Apart from those trends, especially worrying for the future of the field (if it is to be taken seriously), is the interest of some pressure groups, including especially eastern Slavic peoples of R1a lineages, and Finnic speakers of N1c lineages, who are linking some fantastic ancient ethnolinguistic community to their modern national pride.

“European dialect” expansion of Proto-Indo-European according to The Indo-Europeans: Archeological Problems, Gimbutas (1963). Observe the similarities of the western European expansion to the recently proposed expansion of R1b lineages with western Yamna and Bell Beaker.

Adapting to reality

You can find support for anything you like in anthropology: there is certainly a paper out there that apparently supports your personal view on prehistoric ethnolinguistic Europe. You only have to do a quick search in, and you can justify whatever new genetic results you personally obtained playing with the freely available datasets and open source software – e.g. from Reich’s lab, or the famous ADMIXTURE. If you are one of those few interested in the field who haven’t tried it out yet, Razib Khan helps introduce you to DIY Genetics, so you can show off some graphics and proportions, like most popular bloggers and forum users are doing. Then you can also publish your results in BioRxiv, just to try it out.

So there is no merit at all in justifying these genetic results by supporting a potential anthropological scenario for it. Heck, you can invent it! Here, I said it. Anyone can do Anthropology. In fact, it seems that everyone does Human Evolutionary Genetics nowadays, no matter their background. Some lab knowledge and experience in doctoral research seems to be enough.

Admixture analyses are obtained using one or more algorithms, which have a limited potential to inform of possible migrations (its ultimate objective, at least regarding its complementary function to Archaeology within Indo-European studies). Such algorithms invariably have:

  • Intrinsic constraints: You have to understand each algorithm’s intrinsic limitations to be able to apply them correctly, and to derive meaningful but cautious conclusions. Using software commands and obtaining graphics and percentages does not imply you understand the constraints at stake. If you have tried them out, you have seen their great limitations; if you don’t see them, you certainly realize how little you understand of them.
  • Extrinsic constraints. Most are known, and often mentioned explicitly in research papers:
    • Few DNA samples, from limited sites.
    • Scarce and variable material recovered from these samples.
    • Quality of the retrieval, human errors, etc.
    • Lack of precise anthropological context.

Admixture results (whether by professionals or amateurs) are nevertheless often illustrated with tailored anthropological models: in case of the renown papers most likely because of ignorance of anthropological context, broad (philosophical or theoretic) and precise (historical), or lack of sufficient understanding of the different fields involved, and in case of many amateur geneticists also (often) to justify a desire for a prehistoric ethnolinguistic identification similar to their social or political agendas, in a new Kossinnian trend.

Admixture analyses are not wrong per se. It is wrong to trust them to inform you of something they can’t; because they need context, and ancient samples need ancient context, which in prehistoric times is obviously quite limited. If you don’t know as much as possible about the ancient context (i.e. Linguistics, Archaeology, Anthropology), you get the wrong conclusions. Period. If you look for papers on ancient context expecting to find whichever model fits your results (or worse, your wish), that is called bias. Don’t expect to get the right conclusions doing that, either. If you find it, that’s called confirmation bias. Such results are not useful. For anyone, not even you, you just deceive yourself and maybe others.

Some apparently think that a group of geneticists can achieve a meaningful interpretation of data just by adding one or more archaeologists to the research group – or as ‘co-authors’ of individual research papers. Wrong again. Ten people with IQ 20 don’t make the reasoning of a person with IQ 200 (not that I believe in measuring intelligence, but you get the point). Similarly, twenty researchers, each one with knowledge exclusively (or almost exclusively) of their own field, can’t achieve a meaningful explanation for the data obtained. Geneticists look for an anthropological model that coherently fits their results. Archaeologists will look for a model known to them that fits the genetic results (or more likely the interpretations thereof) they are given. That way, when working together, they can achieve a common ground. If neither of them understands the complexities and shortcomings of the others’ materials and methods (and their whole background), the results will be formally correct, but still wrong. They need to know all aspects involved in the others’ fields in great detail, to understand all potential implications of new data.

Since the advent of ancient DNA samples and especially PCA analyses, phylogeography (leaning predominantly on Y chromosomes) has been relegated to a (probably deserved) second place in assessing DNA samples. However, as Razib Khan states, “in the scaffold of the ancient DNA framework it can resolve some issues”. I think this is one of those issues, an issue that is not trivial at all – in that it affects migration models from the steppe at a critical period of linguistic expansion -, and the shortcomings of not relying on it are becoming quite evident with each new publication.

Many amateur geneticists that support the mainstream genetic models of the past two years don’t like the ad hoc explanations that others have been constantly giving to support their previous theories. After all, it seems unfair that some people would reject data that offers an obvious prehistoric picture of populations, because of the unwillingness to change one’s own preconceptions, right? For example, against the mainstream steppe migration theory, we have those who support that R1b must have been western European (Palaeolithic or Mesolithic) hunter-gatherers expanded from Iberia; or those who want R1a to have expanded from India. No matter how strong the evidence is against those models, some groups harbour a desire to fit anything in one’s previous image of reality.

However, some people who can’t stand those absurd ad hoc explanations and rationalisations, are quite ready to embrace the idea that, somehow, during the Chalcolithic expansion of Yamna, an imaginary community was formed where communities of divergent lineages R1a-Z645 (found mostly north of the steppe and later in Corded Ware cultures) and R1b-M269 (found mostly in the steppe and later in the cultures known to have evolved from Yamna, like Afanasevo, Vučedol, and Bell Beaker) lived together and spoke the same language for centuries, or even millennia. And that community would have existed after a Late Neolithic westward expansion of the Khvalynsk culture, and another westward expansion of the Repin culture, both of which probably reduced the diversity of Y-DNA lineages within Yamna: the first to R1b-M269 lineages, the second to R1b-L23 subclades.

Both communities of R1a and R1b lineages, described then as united until the Yamna expansion (although no sample of R1a-Z645 subclade has been ascribed to any steppe expansion) would have expanded somehow separately, R1a-M417 exclusively to the north into Corded Ware – without any migratory connection found between Yamna and Corded Ware in mainstream Archaeology -, and forming thus dialectal groups (like “Germano-Balto-Slavic” or “Indo-Slavonic”) that are not supported by mainstream linguistics.

On the other hand, R1b-Z2103 and R1b-L51 lineages, which were already separated within Yamna and probably forming different communities, are known to have spread to the west with the Yamna expansion, in some places and cultures they are found together (like Bell Beaker), which would be expected in a common migration of separate groups. No single R1b-L23 sample has been found in the Corded Ware expansion, no single R1a-M417 individual in the Yamna expansion.

These convoluted explanations of how R1a lineages must have spoken Indo-European are based on the assumption that admixture analyses (from the current limited data, with the current wrong interpretation of their context) necessarily means that Corded Ware peoples spread as Yamna migrants – hence R1a lineages must come from Yamna – and then spread into Bell Beaker.

It is possible, and in my opinion expected, that eventually some R1a-M417 subclade will be found in Yamna samples (east or west), and some haplogroup R1b-M269 (especially R1b-L23 and subclades) will be found in samples from Corded Ware cultures (west or east). Indeed, there must have been close contacts between both cultures (between Yamna–Southeast Europe–East Bell Beaker and Corded Ware), and not only through female exogamy. It would be quite strange not to find a single R1b-L23 sample in Corded Ware cultures, or an R1a-M417 sample in Late Proto-Indo-European-speaking territories. Those scattered samples, whenever they are found, will probably not change the data: but they might give a reason for some to keep supporting a model that is not the most likely one. It won’t still be the most reasonable, the simplest model that explains all data.

What it means to be an ‘ethnic’ Balt or Slav

Older models – older even than Gimbutas’ kurgan model of the 1950s, as you can see -, by presupposing an instant breakup of a unitary Proto-Indo-European language into different linguistic communities without previous dialectal relation with each other, cannot explain our common European linguistic heritage. More recent models based on recent genetic studies (and on outdated or newly invented linguistic and archaeological theories), by trying to connect genetically (directly) modern eastern Europeans with Proto-Indo-Europeans, are in fact disconnecting Balto-Slavic peoples from the rest of Europe for three thousand years, and connecting them either with Uralic or with Indo-Iranian speakers. Ethnolinguistic identification, however, is not about genetics – and it has never been, and I hope it will never be -; it is related to self-identification into groups, and more broadly to a common culture, and often specifically a common language.

In terms of language, it makes sense to support a situation where Balto-Slavic was a North-West Indo-European dialect (sharing a common language ancestral to Germanic and Italo-Celtic too), with certain ancient (Uralic?) innovative traits shared with Indo-Iranian and partly with Germanic (but with no direct contacts necessary between these branches). Its recent transition to a Baltic and Slavic proto-languages, already by eastern European groups, shows their strong external influence from Uralic and Iranian, respectively, so an identification of Balto-Slavic with the expansion of R1a lineages is probably to be found in a western group of R1a-Z282 subclades expanding eastwards between the Bronze Age and the Iron Age.

Eastern Europe’s Indo-European heritage (Balto-Slavic) is therefore connected to the western European one (Italo-Celtic and Germanic), each with its own linguistic substrate and influences, but with a common, shared ancient language. North-West Indo-European derived in turn from Late Indo-European, a language ancestral to Indo-Iranian and Palaeo-Balkan languages, the latter showing continued contacts with western Europe for millennia.

In the minimum-case scenario – for supporters of a Satem proto-language like Kortlandt – the language substrate to Baltic and Slavic must be a North-West Indo-European language (to fit its shared traits with North-West Indo-European), like Holzer’s Temematic (a hypothesis which Kortlandt seems to support) that would have then been recently absorbed by Satem speakers of Eastern Europe. In that context, central European R1a-Z282 lineages (which form the majority of West Slavic lineages) would have spoken that NWIE language for millennia , until proto-historic times, when a cultural diffusion of a Graeco-Aryan dialect (mainly spoken by R1a-Z93 or eastern European R1a-Z282 lineages, then) would have happened in eastern Europe, and then a cultural diffusion (or demic diffusion?) of Slavic-speaking peoples would have happened to the west, into central Europe.

In none of these scenarios is any sort of Proto-Indo-European -> Balto-Slavic ethnolinguistic, genetic, or territorial continuity to be seen. The former model is not only the simpler explanation for Slavic and Baltic, but it is also the communis opinio today by most Indo-Europeanists, it is supported by Archaeology, and Genetics is likely to keep supporting it with each new paper. I don’t find anything shameful, or that could diminish modern Baltic and Slavic identities a bit, by accepting any of those models, so I don’t understand the imperative need some people seem to have of identifying R1a lineages with the Yamna expansion and thus Proto-Indo-European.

For those who will still be vying for a more prominent role of haplogroup R1a in the Proto-Indo-European ethnogenesis, there are alternative older scenarios to the arrival of Proto-Indo-European to the steppe, as there are older models for an Anatolian origin of PIE. So, for example I already laid out the possibility that the invasion of R1a-M417 brought Indo-European (or, more precisely, Indo-Uralic) to eastern Europe – as part of a Uralo-Yukaghir or Paleo-Siberian group -, while R1b communities may have originally been speakers of Afroasiatic (cf. R1b-V88 and the potential Afroasiatic homeland in Lake Megachad), and R2 would have been associated with the spread of Dravidian (and maybe Kartvelian and Altaic), all of them departing from a common Nostratic associated with haplogroup R. This model could find support in genetics in the link found between Mesolithic Northeast Europeans and Neolithic Siberians, from an Ancient North Eurasian (ANE) population probably rich in Y-chromosome haplogroup R1a.

This is just one of many highly hypothetic ancient scenarios, and it requires more assumptions than a continuity of Indo-Uralic (or even Indo-Uralic and Afroasiatic) with R1b lineages – R1a potentially marking the spread of Paleo-Siberian languages -, and above all it is based on controversial linguistic macrofamilies, not (yet?) supported by mainstream anthropological disciplines. It is nevertheless one theory certain romantics can place their hopes in, as R1b communities of the steppe become accepted as those originally speaking (Middle and Late) Proto-Indo-European in the steppe.


I am not saying I am right. There is still too much to be said and corrected. In fact, I could be wrong, and we may lack a lot of interesting data: there might have been a late R1a-R1b North-West Indo-European-speaking community within western Yamna, and we might need to revise what we knew about Archaeology yet again (and maybe even Linguistics!) before admixture algorithms; then maybe geneticists have come to save the day after all. However, all anthropological evidence points strongly (and genetic studies more strongly with each new study) to the image we had previous to the first genetic data based on haplogroups.

I think it is preposterous of some researchers (no matter if professional or amateur geneticists, or archaeologists, or even linguists) to think algorithms can beat more than two hundred years and thousands of works on this matter. In Academia, mathematics rarely revolutionize a field; it could usually help, but it can just make you sound scientifish, and point in the wrong direction.

And no, I am not smarter than the rest, I can only judge from what I know, and that is always too little, far less than I would like to. But maybe I am in a more neutral position regarding the end result, given my renewed skepticism in revolutionary methods to solve academic problems, and my indifference as to a western European or eastern European origin of R1b or R1a lineages. And I am not alone in my lack of confidence in the interpretation of recent genetic admixture results – read Voker Heyd’s papers, for example, if you want the view of a renown and experienced archaeologist who was in the field of Indo-European studies earlier than any of those now popular geneticists.

In fact, I also fell for the R1a-Corded Ware expansion of Late Indo-European, and before many in the Anthropological fields, and with even less proof, back when we only had haplogroups of modern populations and the promises of Cavalli-Sforza. When I decided to publish a grammar to learn Indo-European as a modern language, the aim was to offer a mainstream reconstruction of Late Proto-Indo-European without adding my own contributions; despite this, I added the newly, archaeogenetically-supported Corded Ware migration model (see A Grammar of Modern Indo-European, Third Edition, pp. 74 and ff.).

I guess I liked the picture of an old romantic Europe, divided in western Vasconic (R1b) and eastern Uralic (N1c) hunter-gatherers (and later farmers) being invaded by warring kurgan-makers from the steppe (R1a) … And I really liked the article of Haak et al. (2015) – the first one I read on this subject -, which I saw, like everyone else, as supporting what many of us already believed about a single, common expansion of North-West Indo-European into western Europe. It also made our life – regarding the linguistic unity of Balto-Slavic with the West Indo-European core – much easier…

Chalcolithic expansion from Yamna into Corded Ware (as early North-West Indo-European dialects), as interpreted in the second edition of A Grammar of Modern Indo-European.

Recent papers, when compared to what linguists and archaeologists had been saying for years – before even Y-DNA haplogroup was a thing for any of these now popular genetic labs (not to speak about internet geneticists) -, leave little space for doubt right now. I embraced the results of haplogroup analysis of modern populations, which seemed to support an expansion of Proto-Indo-European R1a-lineages with the Corded Ware culture, and dismissed thus Gimbutas’ and Anthony’s model (of a Yamna -> Bell Beaker expansion of Italo-Celtic). I also embraced the results of the publications on genetics of 2015 with open arms.

But, I was able to change my mind when the careful observation of individual samples of these recent studies began to contradict what we thought, and I did so publicly only recently (publishing the Indo-European demic diffusion model), and more strongly after the latest papers (publishing the updated second edition), without remorse. And I will reverse that decision again if needed, and change it again and again as I feel necessary, no matter how many times. In Science, to adapt to new data does not make you a brownnoser, it makes you a scientist. Not to adapt to new data does not make you a man of firm ideals, or any chivalrous concept you might have about that, it makes you look ignorant and biased. It’s that simple.

Some of you may think that there is a third way: to keep an old, now unlikely idea you have supported in the past, but not bragging about it in the meantime until it is proven fully wrong, just in case it is demonstrated to be right in the end – because then you might claim you were right all along, like you had some magic understanding or hidden data the rest of us didn’t. I don’t think that’s the correct way to behave in a scientific environment, either. That makes you a coward. And you wouldn’t have been right all along: you would have been right, then wrong, then right again. Everybody can see that, and so do you.

Geneticists working on future publications should be planning ahead of what might happen. The overconfidence of Haak et al. (2015), Mathieson et al. (2015), and Allentoft et al. (2015), including Lazaridis et al. (2016), in supporting a Yamna -> Corded Ware migration, and a Corded Ware -> Bell Beaker migration are understandable in a rapidly growing field that didn’t leave enough time to study complex anthropological questions. The recent errors of following that simplistic and wrong model in Mathieson et al. (2017), and Olalde et al. (2017), coupled with Kristiansen’s (2017) and Anthony’s (2017) new interpretations (to fit the conclusions of those genetic studies), can be forgiven, because of all the fuss created around the Steppe admixture concept, and the desire of journals to publish popular papers, and of researchers to go with the tide and gain some popularity along the way.

From now on, however, if the evidence keeps pointing in the same direction, a lack of attention to anthropological detail will be simple wishful ignorance, and that cannot be forgiven in any field that strives to ascertaining the truth. If continued, this trend will damage the field of Human Evolutionary Biology for years – at least in the view of anthropologists, who are the real filter of this field’s conclusions -, when its current results prove wrong. Genetic studies will be banished from anthropological studies, dismissed as a pseudo-science, and avoided by any scientific or academic journal worthy of a minimum self-respect.

To regain trust in a field that purportedly uses “more scientific methods” but is nonetheless proven that wrong for years in its essential assumption (a Yamna -> Corded Ware migration model), and especially when it is associated with the traditionally despised ‘Kossinnian trends‘, will be a hard task for those involved. So many postdoc offers in so many labs being created right now will vanish, as the interest in publishing papers of this discredited field will disappear. This could also threaten the recently renewed impulse by archaeologists and linguists of migration models, which had been rejected for a long time, giving impulse to those who deny them ( e.g. in the UK and in France), or who just don’t want to see Archaeology or Linguistics get involved with such a controversial question, or even between each other.

High-impact factor journals like Nature, Science, PNAS, and those not so famous, as well as their reviewers and readers, are doing a disservice to the endeavour of ascertaining the historical truth, if they allow this to happen without protesting. But such consequences for the field will be their making, and not that of suspicious anthropologists, who do well in distrusting any revolutionary results published by overconfident researchers from newly developed and too broadly defined subfields.


(Note: featured image is licensed CC-by-sa 4.0 from crates at Wikipedia)