How to do modern phylogeography: Relationships between clans and genetic kin explain cultural similarities over vast distances

yakut-phylogeography

A preprint paper has been published in BioRxiv, Relationships between clans and genetic kin explain cultural similarities over vast distances: the case of Yakutia, by Zvenigorosky et al (2017).

Abstract:

Archaeological studies sample ancient human populations one site at a time, often limited to a fraction of the regions and periods occupied by a given group. While this bias is known and discussed in the literature, few model populations span areas as large and unforgiving as the Yakuts of Eastern Siberia. We systematically surveyed 31,000 square kilometres in the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) and completed the archaeological study of 174 frozen graves, assembled between the 15th and the 19th century. We analysed genetic data (autosomal genotypes, Y-chromosome haplotypes and mitochondrial haplotypes) for all ancient subjects and confronted it to the study of 190 modern subjects from the same area and the same population. Ancient familial links and paternal clan were identified between graves up to 1500 km apart and we provide new data concerning the origins of the contemporary Yakut population and demonstrate that cultural similarities in the past were linked to (i) the expansion of specific paternal clans, (ii) preferential marriage among the elites and (iii) funeral choices that could constitute a bias in any ancient population study.

Even if you are not interested in the cultural and anthropological evolution of this Turkic-speaking people of the Russian Far Eastern region, the method used is an excellent example of how to use archaeology and genetics (especially Y-DNA and mtDNA data) to obtain meaningful results when investigating ancient populations.

For quite some time, probably since the first renown admixture analyses of ancient DNA samples were published, we have been living under the impression that phylogeography, or simply archaeogenetics as it was called back in the day, is not needed.

Cavalli-Sforza’s assertion that the study of modern populations could offer a clear picture of past population movements is now considered wrong, and the study of Y-DNA and mtDNA haplogroups is today mostly disregarded as of secondary importance, even among geneticists. Whole genomic investigation (and especially admixture analyses) have been leading the new wave of overconfidence in genetic results, tightly joint with the ignorance of its shortcomings (and commercial interests based on desires of ethnic identification), and haplogroups are usually just reported with other, not entirely meaningful aspects of ancient DNA analyses.

While it is undeniable that admixture analyses are offering quite interesting results, they must be carefully balanced against known archaeological and linguistic knowledge. Phylogeography – and especially Y-DNA haplogroup assessment – is quite interesting in investigating kinship and clans in patrilocal communities – i.e. most communities in prehistoric and historic periods, unless proven otherwise.

Luckily enough, there are those researchers who still strive to obtain meaningful information from haplotypes. The article referenced in this post is quite interesting due to its phylogeographic method’s applicability to ancient cultures and peoples.

When some geneticists look at simplistic prehistoric maps, like those depicting Yamna, Afanasevo, Corded Ware, and Bell Beaker cultures together, they forget that 1) cultural regions are selected more or less arbitrarily (we only have certain scattered sites for each of these cultures); 2) economic or population contacts are difficult to ascertain and to represent graphically; and 3) time periods for archaeological sites are important – in fact, they are probably THE most important aspect in assessing how accurate a map (and its “arrows” of migration or exchange) represents reality.

A careful, detailed study like this one, if applied to the Pontic-Caspian steppe, would probably reveal how R1b subclades dominated steppe clans, beginning at least during the Suvorovo-Novodanilovka expansion to the west, and certainly representing the vast majority of lineages during the internal expansion in the Early Yamna period and its later expansion east and west of the steppe…

Featured image from the article, summing up Geography, Archaeology, and Genetics of Yakutia – including Y-DNA and mtDNA haplogroups from ancient populations.

Related:

Heyd, Mallory, and Prescott were right about Bell Beakers

yamna-migration

Sometimes it is fun to read certain “old” papers. I have recently re-read some important papers that predicted what we are seeing now in aDNA analysis with surprising accuracy:

Harrison & Heyd (2007): “We predict that future stable isotope and ancientDNA analyses of Beaker skeletal material will support our view that immigration played an important role in the Europe-wide Bell Beaker phenomenon”. – Duh, obvious, right? Wrong. Read the whole paper. It was already becoming a classic in the study of the Bell Beaker culture before the latest research on Bell Beaker aDNA, and it will be still more important from now on. There are different models for the Bell Beaker origin and expansion, and this was only one of them: we had the Dutch model, the radiocarbon date-based attempts to locate Bell Beakers in Iberia or North Africa,… I tried to highlight the best sentences from Heyd’s article to include them in my article, and I just couldn’t stop highlighting almost everything. It is surprising that 10 years ago Volker Heyd was predicting so much from such a limited amount of material, and with conflicting reports coming from everywhere, from palaeogenetics to radiocarbon dating. Not that today their chronology of Le Petit – Chasseur is accepted by all, but their general Bell Beaker and Yamna model has been clearly established as the most likely one with support from aDNA.

– Mallory in Celtic from the West 2 (2013), as the last of many to propose Bell Beaker as the vector of spread of Late Indo-European languages, but the first to relate it to North-West Indo-European: “The spread of Indo-European languages from Alpine Europe may have begun with the Beaker culture, presuming here a non-Iberian Beaker homeland (Rhineland, Central European) for that part of the Beaker phenomenon that was associated with an Indo-European language. While it is possible that IE language(s) spread with the Beaker phenomenon, it is questionable that this was associated with Proto-Celtic rather than earlier forms of Late Indo-European, at least part of which might be subsumed under the heading NW Indo-European. This is because the time depth of the dispersal of the Beakers is so great and the earliest attested Celtic languages are so similar (…)”. You might think that it is related to the Atlantic Indo-European theory favoured by Cunnliffe and Koch in the book… Wrong, he specifically dismisses a Neolithic spread of Indo-European, and a Calcholithic spread of Celtic languages as too early. You might also think that to publish that in 2013 has no merit, given the data. Wrong again. Just look at the trend among renown archaeologists – like Anthony (with Haak) and Kristiansen (with Allentoft) – trying to hop on the bandwagon of Corded Ware-driven Indo-European dispersal based on the “steppe admixture” proportion of recent genetic papers, and you realize he is going against the grain here.

Prescott and Walderhaug 1995 (as referred to in Prescott 2012): “The Bell Beaker period is the most, perhaps the only, reasonable candidate for the spread and final entrenchment of a common Indo-European language throughout Scandinavia (and not just Corded Ware core areas of southern and eastern Scandinavia), and particularly Norway”. Duh again? Not so fast. While Bell Beaker had been proposed before as a vector of Indo-European languages in Europe, the association with Germanic was far more controversial. Only the unifying Dagger Period was more clearly established as of Pre-Germanic nature, but it could be interpreted as of Corded Ware, Úněticean, or even early Neolithic origin, or a mix of them. Bell Beaker groups were never good candidates, if only because of the desire by some researchers to offer a romanticized (either more unifying or ancient) picture of a Germanic Northern Scandinavian homeland, explained as a culturally and genetically homogeneous group.

Their papers seem to state the obvious now that the latest aDNA samples are proving them correct, but it was far from clear years ago: remember the native European Basque-R1b – Uralic-N1c harmony disrupted by invasive Eurasian Indo-European-speaking warriors carrying R1a lineages from Yamna to Corded Ware? Well that is still a thing for some. And even today the most popular interpretation of the spread of Indo-European-speakers in Europe is based on the defined “steppe ancestry” proportion found in Corded Ware individuals, and a supposedly Yamna community formed by R1b-R1a lineages, which is obviously reminiscent of the identification of R1a lineages with Proto-Indo-Europeans based on the initial analysis of haplogroups in modern populations.

It is sad to imagine how much we would have improved in our knowledge, had we read their work with interest when it was necessary, and not now that we have most of the aDNA clues. Still sadder is to see people rely on genetic studies alone to derive today what are likely the wrong conclusions. Again.

I will end with a mea culpa. I hadn’t read those works; but even if I had, I would have stayed with the simpler, R1a-Corded Ware model of Indo-European dispersion. That oversimplification will remain in the different editions of our Grammar of Modern Indo-European as a permanent reminder. Simpler seems always better, and Cavalli-Sforza had famously asserted that ancient population movements could be solved with the study of the structure of modern populations. I think he was right, that we can in fact ascertain ancient population movements by studying modern populations if we include anthropological disciplines, but it is such a complex task – and geneticists have not shown a good grasp in (or interest for) Anthropology -, that it is nowadays clearly wrong to rely on modern population samples to derive conclusions about ancient populations, and we are better off studying ancient DNA samples in their context.

We were Back-to-the-Future-wrong, overestimating our potential in some aspects – like the results of researching modern DNA -, and underestimating it in others – like the potential changes that ancient DNA investigation could bring for anthropological disciplines. Just as we are wrong today in trusting the potential of admixture analysis to be self-explanatory, without a need for wide anthropological investigation (or even able to revolutionize archaeological and linguistic theories).

I hope to keep a more critical view of publications – especially the most popular ones – from now on.

Indo-European demic diffusion model, 2nd edition, revised and updated

It has been three months since I published the first paper on the Indo-European demic diffusion model.

In the meantime, important pre-print papers with samples of Bell Beaker and South-Eastern European cultures compel me to add new data in support of the model. I have taken this opportunity to revise the whole text in a new paper, Indo-European demic diffusion model, 2nd edition, and also some of the maps of Indo-European migrations, which are now hosted in this blog.

I have made changes to some of the old blogs I had, like this one, and I have merged two of them (from carlosquiles.com and indo-european.info) in this domain, indo-european.eu, to begin blogging about anthropological questions regarding Proto-Indo-Europeans and their language.

This blog was used years ago as my personal dialectic training site in English, mostly filled with controversial topics, and while I hope to keep some form of discussion, I want to turn it into a more pragmatic blog for news and reports on Indo-European studies.

Indo-European.info will be used as a collaborative Wiki website for this model to include supplementary information from published papers – such as results of individual and group’s admixture analyses, archaeological information of individual samples, and also mtDNA. To collaborate, users will have to request an account first (it will be a closed community), and those with important contributions will be added as authors of the following editions of the paper.

Indo-European Demic Diffusion – The expansion of Proto-Indo-Europeans potentially explained as the expansion of R1b subclades

I published an essay (or “dissertation”) some weeks ago, about what seems to me one of the most likely models of expansion of Indo-European-speaking peoples, based on Y-DNA haplogroups. Recently J.P. Mallory had proposed* (although he was not the first) that North-West Indo-European (the ancestor of Italo-Celtic and Germanic, and Balto-Slavic**) expanded with the Bell Beaker culture, a hypothesis that is supported by the most recent radiocarbon data (and subsequent proposal of an eastern origin of the pre-Bell Beaker culture, linked to the Yamna expansion, by Volker and Heyd). As I outline in the paper, ancient DNA samples and genetic data from modern populations seem to support this new model.

The still most prevalent model followed by archaeologists, based on Gimbutas’ theory, links the Corded Ware culture expansion to an expansion of the Yamna culture. Gimbutas linked the expansion of Bell Beaker to the expansion of certain Indo-European dialects through Vucedol, and Corded Ware was associated with the expansion of Germano-Balto-Slavic. Even though linguistics has changed its mainstream view of the dialectalization of Late Indo-European in the past half century, the archaeological community (those who supported the steppe expansion, at least) has remained strongly linked to Gimbutas, and more recently David Anthony has supported a similar model (with a phylogenetic model of Proto-Indo-European dialects by Don Ringe), by explaining a dual expansion into Corded Ware by Pre-Germanic (through a mixed Old European / IE Usatovo culture) and Pre-Balto-Slavic (through the Middle Dnieper culture), while eastern Bell Beakers expanded with Italo-Celtic dialects. While a strong cultural connection between Yamna and Corded Ware is currently undeniable, and admixture analyses show a connection between steppe and both Bell Beaker and Corded Ware samples, the actual relationship is today far less clear than it was 10 years ago (when we would simply connect Yamna with a R1a-dominated Corded Ware), and far more ancient samples from the steppe, steppe-forest, and forest zone are needed to extract any strong conclusions.

During this time I have received some comments on the paper, and have discovered some interesting sources for more information, like BioRxiv (for the newest pre-print papers on Genetics), and Academia.edu (for papers on Archaeology), both of which I can’t hardly recommend enough for anyone interested in these topics. From what I have experienced, Linguistics – which seemed to me a quite closed, strongly conservative community, due to my proposal of speaking a reconstructed Proto-Indo-European dialect as a common language today – has been more open with my model than some archaeological/genetic tandems, and linguists have shown a clearer grasp of all anthropological disciplines involved in Indo-European studies than others… My model remains a theory that I expect to develop further with more details and more genetic data, as they are published.

There are some interesting upcoming samples (mainly from Bell Beaker) by the Reich Lab – and today its publication seems nearer. While the interpretation seems to be in line with what has been said in previous similar publications, the most interesting data will most likely be the actual samples, apparently already showing a lack of steppe ancestry in Iberian Bell Beaker, and a clear invasion of Bell Beaker peoples (hence R1b?) in Great Britain. Hopefully some new samples of Yamna and Corded Ware might give us interesting information.

It is always to be remembered that, when talking about Indo-European peoples, what matters is linguistics: after, all, the peoples whose place and time we want to find are defined by their language, Indo-European. Archaeology might be able to date some cultural developments potentially linked with Indo-European-speaking peoples, and genetics might give support to the expansion of peoples (and thus maybe languages) accompanying such cultural expansions. Recent genetic developments are quite interesting, in that we might be able to place Late Indo-European and North-West Indo-European speakers in place and time, but it seems to me that some people are trying to answer the Urheimat problem the other way around.

* J.P. Mallory, ‘The Indo-Europeanization of Atlantic Europe’, in Celtic From the West 2: Rethinking the Bronze Age and the Arrival of Indo-European in Atlantic Europe, eds J. T. Koch and B. Cunliffe (Oxford, 2013), p.17-40

** It has been proposed that Balto-Slavic derived partially from North-West Indo-European, and partially from a different Late Indo-European language, although there are different models to explain the pidginization of this dialect