Haplogroup R1b-M167/SRY2627 linked to Celts expanding with the Urnfield culture


As you can see from my interest in the recently published Olalde et al. (2019) Iberia paper, once you accept that East Bell Beakers expanded North-West Indo-European, the most important question becomes how did its known dialects spread to their known historic areas.

We already had a good idea about the expansion of Celts, based on proto-historical accounts, fragmentary languages, and linguistic guesstimates, but the connection of Celtic with either Urnfield or slightly later Hallstatt/La Tène was always blurred, due to the lack of precise data on population movements.

The latest paper on Iberia is interesting for many details, such as:

  • The express dismissal of the newest pet theory based on the simplistic “steppe ancestry = IE”: the obsessive comparisons of Dutch Bell Beakers as the origin of basically anything that moves in Europe.
  • A discrete influx of North African ancestry in certain samples before the Moorish invasion (which was probably mediated by peoples of North African rather than Levantine admixture).
  • The finding of very Mycenaean-like Greek colonies of the 5th century (interestingly, under R1b lineages).
Modified from section of PCA of ancient samples by Olalde et al. (2019). “IE Iberia” refers to Pre-Celtic Indo-European languages of Iberia, such as Galaico-Lusitanian in the west (see more on Lusitanian), and a potentially Ligurian-related language in the North-East and southern France.

The paper is, however, of particular importance from the perspective of historical linguistics. It confirms that:

  • Celtic-speaking peoples expanded in Iberia likely during the Late Bronze Age – Early Iron Age (probably with the Urnfield culture, before 1000 BC) with North/Central European ancestry.

NOTE. The paper marks what are believed to be the boundaries of non-Indo-European languages during the Iron Age in later times, extrapolating that situation to the past. Mediterranean sites with Iberian traits (ca. 6th century on) were probably non-Indo-European-speaking tribes, but it is unclear what happened in the centuries before their sampling, and there are no clear boundaries. These incoming Celts from central Europe with the Urnfield culture makes it very likely that the Iberian expansion to the north happened later, incorporating thus this central European ancestry in the process. The southern (orientalizing, Tartessian) site of La Angorrilla shows incineration and influence from Phoenician settlers, and their actual language is also far from clear. The other investigated samples, with higher central European contribution, are from Celtiberian sites.

  • The slightly later arrival of (Phoenician, Greek and) Latin-speaking peoples into Iberia is marked by Central/Eastern Mediterranean and North African ancestry.
Expansion of different ancestry components in Iberia during Prehistory. Modified from Olalde et al. (2019) to include labels with populations expanding with each component.

While both confirm what was more or less already known about the oldest attested NWIE dialects, and further support the role of East Bell Beakers in expanding North-West Indo-European, the first part is interesting for two main reasons:

  1. Koch’s Celtic from the West hypothesis, which made a recent comeback with a renewed model based on “steppe ancestry”, is once again rejected in population genomics, as expected. At this point I doubt this will mean anything to the supporters of the theory (because you can propose as many “Celtic-over-Celtic” layers as you want), but if you are not obsessed with autochthonous continuity of Celtic languages in the Atlantic area we might begin to judge the most correct dialectal split (and thus classification) among those proposed to date, based on ancestry and haplogroup expansions.
  2. We believed in the 2000s that the expansion of haplogroup R1b-M167 (TMRCA ca. 1100 BC for YTree or 1700 BC for YFull) was coupled with the expansion of Iberians from the Pyrenees, in turn (thus) closely related to Basques. This non-IE presence has been contested with toponymic data in linguistics, and with the testing of many modern samples and the subsequent discovery of the widespread distribution of the subclade in western and northern Europe. Now it has become even more likely (lacking confirmation with aDNA) that this haplogroup expanded with Celts.

NOTE. Regarding R1b SNPs, YTree has more samples (and thus more SNPs) to work with estimates, due to its connection with FTDNA groups, so it is in principle more reliable (although estimates were calculated in 2017). Nevertheless, the methods to estimate the age of the MRCA are different between YTree and YFull.

YTree estimations of TMRCA for R1b-Z262 (left) and R1b-M167 (right).

Why this is important has to do with the realization that Celts must have expanded explosively in all directions during the estimated range for Common Celtic (ca. 1500-1000 BC), and as such R1b-M167 is probably going to be one of the clear Y-DNA markers of the Celtic expansion, when it appears in the ancient DNA record, maybe in new SNP calls from samples of the Olalde et al. (2019) paper, or in future Urnfield/Hallstatt/La Tène papers.

Sister clades derived from R1b-Z262 (TMRCA ca. 1650 BC for YTree, or 2700 for YFull), although sharing a quite old origin, may have taken part in the same communities that expanded R1b-M167, likely from some point in central Europe, possibly as remnants of a previous (Tumulus culture?) central European expansion, as the sample SZ5 from Szólád (R1b-CTS1595) and the distribution of modern samples suggest.

Left: Modern distribution of upstream clade L176.2 (YFull R1b-CTS4188); Right: Modern distribution of M167. Both include later expansions within Iberia (probably with the Crown of Aragon during the Reconquista). Contour maps of the derived allele frequencies of the SNPs analyzed in Solé-Morata et al. (2017).

The Celtic expansion might not have been a mass migration of peoples replacing all male lines of their controlled territories (as was common in the Neolithic and Chalcolithic), because of the Bronze Age dominant chiefdom-based system that relied on alliances, but it is becoming clear that Early Celts are also going to show the expansion of certain successful male lineages.

Oh, and you can say goodbye to the autochthonous “Vasconic = R1b-DF27” (latest heir of the “Vasconic = R1b-P312”) theory, too, if – for some strange reason – you hadn’t already.

EDIT (16 MAR) Just in case the wording is not clear: the fact that this haplogroup most likely expanded with Celts does not mean that its lineages didn’t become eventually incorporated into Iberian cultures and adopted non-IE languages: some of them probably did at some point, in some regions of northern Iberia, and most were certainly later incorporated to the Roman civilization and spoke Latin, then to the medieval kingdoms with their languages, and so on until the present day… Only those eventually associated with Iron Age Aquitanians may have retained their non-IE language, unless those lineages today associated with Basques were incorporated later to the Basque-speaking regions by expanding medieval kingdoms. A complex picture repeated everywhere in Europe: no haplogroup+language continuity in sight, anywhere.

NOTE: This here is currently the most likely interpretation of data based on estimations of mutations; it is not confirmed with ancient samples.


Iberia: East Bell Beakers spread Indo-European languages; Celts expanded later


New paper (behind paywall), The genomic history of the Iberian Peninsula over the past 8000 years, by Olalde et al. Science (2019).

NOTE. Access to article from Reich Lab: main paper and supplementary materials.


We assembled genome-wide data from 271 ancient Iberians, of whom 176 are from the largely unsampled period after 2000 BCE, thereby providing a high-resolution time transect of the Iberian Peninsula. We document high genetic substructure between northwestern and southeastern hunter-gatherers before the spread of farming. We reveal sporadic contacts between Iberia and North Africa by ~2500 BCE and, by ~2000 BCE, the replacement of 40% of Iberia’s ancestry and nearly 100% of its Y-chromosomes by people with Steppe ancestry. We show that, in the Iron Age, Steppe ancestry had spread not only into Indo-European–speaking regions but also into non-Indo-European–speaking ones, and we reveal that present-day Basques are best described as a typical Iron Age population without the admixture events that later affected the rest of Iberia. Additionally, we document how, beginning at least in the Roman period, the ancestry of the peninsula was transformed by gene flow from North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean.

Interesting excerpts:

From the Bronze Age (~2200–900 BCE), we increase the available dataset (6, 7, 17) from 7 to 60 individuals and show how ancestry from the Pontic-Caspian steppe (Steppe ancestry) appeared throughout Iberia in this period (Fig. 1, C and D), albeit with less impact in the south (table S13). The earliest evidence is in 14 individuals dated to ~2500–2000 BCE who coexisted with local people without Steppe ancestry (Fig. 2B). These groups lived in close proximity and admixed to form the Bronze Age population after 2000 BCE with ~40% ancestry from incoming groups (Fig. 2B and fig. S6).

Y-chromosome turnover was even more pronounced (Fig. 2B), as the lineages common in Copper Age Iberia (I2, G2, and H) were almost completely replaced by one lineage, R1b-M269. These patterns point to a higher contribution of incoming males than females, also supported by a lower proportion of nonlocal ancestry on the X-chromosome (table S14 and fig. S7), a paradigm that can be exemplified by a Bronze Age tomb from Castillejo del Bonete containing a male with Steppe ancestry and a female with ancestry similar to Copper Age Iberians.


For the Iron Age, we document a consistent trend of increased ancestry related to Northern and Central European populations with respect to the preceding Bronze Age (Figs. 1, C and D, and 2B). The increase was 10 to 19% (95% confidence intervals given here and in the percentages that follow) in 15 individuals along the Mediterranean coast where non-Indo-European Iberian languages were spoken; 11 to 31% in two individuals at the Tartessian site of La Angorrilla in the southwest with uncertain language attribution; and 28 to 43% in three individuals at La Hoya in the north where Indo-European Celtiberian languages were likely spoken (fig. S6 and tables S11 and S12).

This trend documents gene flow into Iberia during the Late Bronze Age or Early Iron Age, possibly associated with the introduction of the Urnfield tradition (18). Unlike in Central or Northern Europe, where Steppe ancestry likely marked the introduction of Indo-European languages (12), our results indicate that, in Iberia, increases in Steppe ancestry were not always accompanied by switches to Indo-European languages.

I think it is obvious they are extrapolating the traditional (not that well-known) linguistic picture of Iberia during the Iron Age, believing in continuity of that picture (especially non-Indo-European languages) during the Urnfield period and earlier.

What this data shows is, as expected, the arrival of Celtic languages in Iberia after Bell Beakers and, by extension, in the rest of western Europe. Somewhat surprisingly, this may have happened during the Urnfield period, and not during the La Tène period.

Also important are the precise subclades:

We thus detect three Bronze Age males who belonged to DF27 (154, 155), confirming its presence in Bronze Age Iberia. The other Iberian Bronze Age males could belong to DF27 as well, but the extremely low recovery rate of this SNP in our dataset prevented us to study its true distribution. All the Iberian Bronze Age males with overlapping sequences at R1b-L21 were negative for this mutation. Therefore, we can rule out Britain as a plausible proximate origin since contemporaneous British males are derived for the L21 subtype.

New open access paper Survival of Late Pleistocene Hunter-Gatherer Ancestry in the Iberian Peninsula, by Villalba-Mouco et al. Cell (2019):

BAL0051 could be assigned to haplogroup I1, while BAL003 carries the C1a1a haplogroup. To the limits of our typing resolution, EN/MN individuals CHA001, CHA003, ELT002 and ELT006 share haplogroup I2a1b, which was also reported for Loschbour [73] and Motala HG [13], and other LN and Chalcolithic individuals from Iberia [7, 9], as well as Neolithic Scotland, France, England [9], and Lithuania [14]. Both C1 and I1/ I2 are considered typical European HG lineages prior to the arrival of farming. Interestingly, CHA002 was assigned to haplogroup R1b-M343, which together with an EN individual from Cova de Els Trocs (R1b1a) confirms the presence of R1b in Western Europe prior to the expansion of steppe pastoralists that established a related male lineage in Bronze Age Europe [3, 6, 9, 13, 19]. The geographical vicinity and contemporaneity of these two sites led us to run genomic kinship analysis in order to rule out any first or second degree of relatedness. Early Neolithic individual FUC003 carries the Y haplogroup G2a2a1, commonly found in other EN males from Neolithic Anatolia [13], Starçevo, LBK Hungary [18], Impressa from Croatia and Serbia Neolithic [19] and Czech Neolithic [9], but also in MN Croatia [19] and Chalcolithic Iberia [9].

See also