Corded Ware and Bell Beaker related groups defined by patrilocality and female exogamy


Two new interesting papers concerning Corded Ware and Bell Beaker peoples appeared last week, supporting yet again what is already well-known since 2015 about West Uralic and North-West Indo-European speakers and their expansion.

Below are relevant excerpts (emphasis mine) and comments.

NOTE. I will add analyses of ancestry, renewed Y-DNA maps, etc. if and when I find the time.

I. Corded Ware and Battle Axe cultures

Open access The genomic ancestry of the Scandinavian Battle Axe Culture people and their relation to the broader Corded Ware horizon, by Malmström, Günther, et al. Philos. Trans. R. Soc. (2019).

I.1. Origins of Corded Ware peoples

The discovery of the Alexandria outlier represented a clear support for a long-lasting genomic difference between the two distinct cultural groups, Yamnaya and Corded Ware, already visible in an opposition Khvalynsk vs. late Sredni Stog ca. 4000 BC, i.e. well before the formation of both Late Eneolithic/Early Bronze Age groups.

However, the realization that it may not have been an Eneolithic individual, but rather a (Middle?) Bronze Age one, suggests that Sredni Stog was possibly not directly related to Corded Ware, and a potential direct connection with Yamnaya might have to be reevaluated, e.g. through the Carpathian Basin, as Anthony (2017) proposed.

Principal component analysis of modern Europeans (grey) and projected ancient Europeans.

This new paper shows two early Corded Ware individuals from Obłaczkowo, Poland (ca. 2900-2600 BC) – hence close to the supposed original Proto-Corded Ware community – with an apparently (almost) full “Steppe-like” ancestry, clustering (almost) with Yamnaya individuals:

Similar to the BAC individuals, the newly sequenced individuals from the present-day Karlova in Estonia and Obłaczkowo in Poland appear to have strong genetic affinities to other individuals from BAC and CWC contexts across the Baltic Sea region. Some individuals from CWC contexts, including the two from Obłaczkowo, cluster closely with the potential source population of steppe-related ancestry, the Yamnaya herders. Notably, these individuals appear to be those with the earliest radiocarbon dates among all genetically investigated individuals from CWC contexts. Overall, for CWC-associated individuals, there is a clear trend of decreasing affinity to Yamnaya herders with time.

NOTE. Interestingly, this sample is almost certainly attributed to the skeleton E8-A, which had been supposedly already investigated by the Copenhagen group as the RISE1 sample:

We note that RISE1 is also described as the individual from Obłaczkowo feature E8-A. However, their genetic results differ from ours. They present this individual as a molecularly determined male that belongs to Y-chromosomal haplogroup (hg) R1b and to mtDNA hg K1b1a1 while our results show this individual to be female, carrying a mtDNA hg U3a’c profile

Since the typical Steppe_MLBA ancestry of Corded Ware groups does not show good fits for (Pre-)Yamnaya-derived ancestry, it is almost certain that these individuals will show no (or almost no) direct Yamnaya-related contribution, but rather a contribution of East European sub-Neolithic groups, more or less close to the steppe-forest region.

NOTE. They might show contributions from Pre-Yamnaya-influenced Sredni Stog, though, but if they show a contribution of Yamnaya, then they are probably outliers, related to Yamnaya vanguard groups (see image below). And for them to show it, then both sources, Yamnaya and Corded Ware, should be clearly distinguishable from each other and their relative contribution quantifiable in formal stats, something difficult (if not impossible) to ascertain today.

Their position in the published PCA – a plot apparently affected by projection bias – suggests a cluster in common with early Baltic samples, which are known to show contributions from East European sub-Neolithic populations (see qpAdm values for Baltic CWC samples).

NOTE. Results for previous samples labelled as Poland CWC are unreliable due to their low coverage.

The most interesting aspect about the ancestry shown by these early samples is their further support for an origin of the culture different than Sredni Stog, and for a rejection of the Alexandria outlier as ancestral to them, hence for a Volhynian-Podolian homeland of Proto-Corded Ware peoples, with an ancestry probably more closely related to the late Maykop Steppe- and Trypillian/GAC groups admixed with sub-Neolithic populations of the Eastern European Late Eneolithic.

NOTE. That is, unless there is a reason for the apparent increase in so-called “Steppe-ancestry” during the northward and westward migration of CWC peoples that represents another thing entirely…

Trypillian routes of influence and Yamnaya culture influences in Central and Central-East Europe during the Late Eneolithic / Early Bronze Age. Images by Klochko (2009).

I.2. CWC expansion under R1a bottlenecks

The two males in our dataset (ber1 and poz81) belonged to Y-chromosome R1a haplogroups, as do the majority of males (16/24) from the previously published CWC contexts, while a smaller fraction belonged to R1b [3/24] or I2a [3/24] lineages. The R1a haplogroup has not been found among Neolithic farmer populations nor in hunter–gatherer groups in central and western Europe, but it has been reported from eastern European hunter–gatherers and Eneolithic groups. Individuals from the Pontic–Caspian steppe, associated with the Yamnaya Culture, carry mostly R1b and not R1a haplotypes.

Sample poz81 is of basal hg. R1a-CTS4385*, an R1a-M417 subclade, supporting once again that most Corded Ware individuals from western and central European groups expanded under R1a-M417 (xZ645) lineages. The Battle Axe sample from Bergsgraven (ca. 2620-2470 BC) shows a basal hg. R1a-Y2395*, a R1a-Z283 subclade leading to the typically Fennoscandian R1a-Z284.

Both findings further support that typical lineages of West CWC groups, including R1a-M417 (xZ645) subclades, were fully replaced by incoming East Bell Beakers, and that the limited expansion of R1a-Z284 and I1 (the latter found in one newly reported Late Neolithic sample from Sweden) was the outcome of later regional bottlenecks within Scandinavia, after the creation of a maritime dominion by the Bell Beaker elites during the Dagger Period.

I.3. CWC and lactase persistence

(…) one of these individuals (kar1) carried at least one allele (-13910 C->T) associated with lactose tolerance, while the other two individuals (ber1 and poz81) carried at least one ancestral variant each, consistent with previous observations of low levels of lactose tolerance variants in the Neolithic and a slight increase among individuals from CWC contexts.

The fact that two early CWC individuals carry ancestral variants could be said to support the improbability of the individual from Alexandria representing a community ancestral to the Corded Ware community. On the other hand, the late CWC individual from Estonia carries one allele, but it still seems that only Bell Beakers and Steppe-related groups show the necessary two alleles during the Early Bronze Age, which is in line with a late Repin/early Yamnaya-related origin of the successful selection of the trait, consistent with the expansion of their specialized semi-nomadic cattle-breeding economy through the steppe biome during the Late Eneolithic.

Maps part of the public data used for the post by Iain Mathieson on Lactase Persistence. “By 2500 BP, the allele is present over a band stretching from Ireland to Central Asia at around 50 degrees latitude. This probably reflects the spread of Steppe ancestry populations in which the allele originated. However, the allele is still rare (say less than 1% frequency) over this entire range. It does not become common anywhere until some time in the past 2500 years – when it reaches its present-day high frequency in Britain and Central Europe”.

I.4. West Uralic spread from the East

The BAC groups fit as a sister group to the CWC-associated group from Estonia but not as a sister group to the CWC groups from Poland or Lithuania (|Z| > 3), indicating some differences in ancestry between these CWC groups and BAC. Supervised admixture modelling suggests that BAC may be the CWC-related group with the lowest YAM-related ancestry and with more ancestry from European Neolithic groups.

While the results of the paper are compatible with a migration from either the Eastern or the Western Baltic into Scandinavia, phylogeography and archaeology support that Battle Axe peoples emerged as a Baltic Corded Ware group close to the Vistula that expanded first to the north-east, and then to the west from Finland, continuing mostly unscathed during the whole Bronze Age mostly in eastern Fennoscandia with the development of Balto-Finnic- and Samic-speaking communities.

Correlation between f4(Chimp, LBK, YAM, X), where X is a CWC or BAC individual, and the date (BCE) of each individual. This statistic measures shared drift between CWC and Linear Pottery Culture (LBK) as opposed to YAM and should increase with the higher proportion of Neolithic farmer ancestry in CWC and BAC.

Radiocarbon dating showed that the three individuals from the Öllsjö megalithic tomb derived from later burials, where oll007 (2860–2500 cal BCE) overlaps with the time interval of the BAC, and oll009 and oll010 (1930–1650 cal BCE) fall within the Scandinavian Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age

For more on how the Pitted Ware culture may have influenced Uralic-speaking Battle Axe peoples earlier than Indo-European-speaking Bell Beakers in Scandinavia, read more about Early Bronze Age Scandinavia and about the emergence of the Pre-Proto-Germanic community.

II. Bell Beakers through the Bronze Age

New paper (behind paywall) Kinship-based social inequality in Bronze Age Europe, by Mittnik et al. Science (2019).

II.1. Yamnaya vanguard settlers

In my last post, I showed how the ancestry of Corded Ware from Esperstedt is consistent with influence by incoming Yamnaya vanguard settlers or early Bell Beakers, stemming ultimately from the Carpathian Basin, something that could be inferred from the position of the Esperstedt outlier in the PCA, and by the knowledge of Yamnaya archaeological influences up to Saxony-Anhalt.

Yamnaya settlers are strongly suspected to have migrated in small so-called vanguard groups to the west and north of the Carpathians in the first half of the 3rd millennium BC, well before the eventual adoption of the Proto-Beaker package and their expansion ca. 2500 BC as East Bell Beakers.

Tauber Valley infiltration

As I mentioned in the books, one of the known – among the many more unknown – sites displaying Yamnaya-related traits and suggesting the expansion of Yamnaya settlers into Central Europe is Lauda-Königshofen, in the Tauber Valley.

From Diet and Mobility in the Corded Ware of Central Europe, by Sjögren, Price, & Kristiansen PLoS One (2017):

A series of CW cemeteries have been excavated in the Tauber valley. There are three large cemeteries known and some 30 smaller sites. The larger ones are Tauberbischofsheim-Dittingheim with 62 individuals, Tauberbischofsheim-Impfingen with 40 individuals, and Lauda-Königshofen with 91 individuals. The cemeteries are dispersed rather regularly along the Tauber valley, on both sides of the river, suggesting a quite densely settled landscape.

The Lauda-Königshofen graves consisted mostly of single inhumations in contracted position, usually oriented E-W or NE-SW. A total of 91 individuals were buried in 69 graves. At least 9 double graves and three graves with 3–4 individuals were present. In contrast to the common CW pattern, sexes were not distinguished by body position, only by grave goods. This trait is common in the Tauber valley and suggests a local burial tradition in this area. Stone axes were restricted to males, pottery to females, while other artifacts were common to both sexes. About a third of the graves were surrounded by ring ditches, suggesting palisade enclosures and possibly over-plowed barrows.

In particular, Frînculeasa, Preda, & Heyd (2015) used Lauda-Königshofen as representative of the mobility of horse-riding Yamnaya nomadic herders migrating into southern Germany, referring to the findings in Trautmann (2012) about the nomadic herders from the Tauber Valley, and their already known differences with other Corded Ware groups.

The likely influence of Yamnaya in the region has been reported at least since the 2000s, repeatedly mentioned by Jozef Bátora (2002, 2003, 2006), who compiled Yamnaya influences in a map that has been copied ever since, with little improvement over time. Heyd believes that there are potentially many Yamnaya remains along the Middle and Lower Danube and tributaries not yet found, though.

NOTE. Looking for this specific site, I realized that Bátora (and possibly many after him who, like me, copied his map) located Lauda-Königshofen in a more south-western position within Baden-Württemberg than its actual location. I have now corrected it in the maps of Chalcolithic migrations.

Yamnaya influences in Central Europe suggestive of vanguard settlements, contemporary with Corded Ware groups. See full map.

Althäuser Hockergrab…Bell Beakers

Unfortunately, though, it is very difficult to attribute the reported R1b-L51 sample from the Tauber valley to a population preceding the arrival of East Bell Beakers in the region, so there is no uncontroversial smoking gun of Yamnaya vanguard settlers – yet. Reasons to doubt a Pre-Beaker origin are as follows:

1. This family of the Tauber valley shows a late radiocarbon date (ca. 2500 BC), i.e. from a time where East Bell Beakers are known to have been already expanding in all directions from the Middle and Upper Danube and its tributaries.

Crouched burial from Althausen (Althäuser Hockergrab), dated ca. 2500 BC.

2. Archaeological information is scarce. Remains of these four individuals were discovered in 1939 and officially reported together with other findings in 1950, without any meaningful data that could distinguish between Bell Beakers and Corded Ware individuals.

This site is located in the Tauber valley, ca. 100 km to the northwest of the Lech valley. The site was discovered during the construction of a sports field in 1939 and was subsequently excavated by G. Müller and O. Paret. Four individuals in crouched position were found in the burial pit of a flat grave. The burial did not contain any grave goods, but due to the type of grave and positioning of the bodies (with heads pointing towards southwest) the site was attributed to the Corded Ware complex.

The classification of this burial as of CWC and not BBC seems to have been based entirely on the numerous CWC findings in the Tauber valley, rather than on its particular burial orientation following a regional custom (foreign to the described standard of both cultures), and on its grave type that was also found among Bell Beaker groups. Like many human remains recovered in dubious circumstances in the 20th century, these samples should have probably been labelled (at least in the genetic paper) more properly as Tauber_LN or Tauber_EBA.

Changes in ancestry over time. (A) Median ages of individuals plotted against z scores of f4 (Mbuti, Test; Yamnaya_Samara, Anatolia_Neolithic) show increase of Anatolian farmer-related ancestry (indicated by more positive z-scores) and decrease of variation in ancestry over time. Grey shading indicates significant z scores, red line shonw near correlation (r = -0.35971; P = 0.003) and dotted lines the 95% confidence interval. (B) ancestry proportions on autosomes calculated with qpAdm. (C) Sex-bias z scores between autosomes and X chromosomes show significant male bias for steppe-related ancestry in the Tauber samples. Image modified from the paper: Surrounded with a blue circle in (A) are females with more Steppe-related ancestry, and in (C) surrounded by squares are the distinct sex biases found in the earliest BBC from the Tauber valley vs. later groups from the Lech valley.

3. In terms of ancestry, there seem to be no gross differences between the Lech Valley BBC individuals and previously reported South German Beakers, originally Yamnaya-like settlers admixing through exogamy with locals, including Corded Ware peoples, as the sex bias of the Lech Valley Beakers proves (see PCA plot below). In other words, northern and eastern Beakers admixed with regional (Epi-)Corded Ware females during their respective expansions, similar to how southern and western Beakers admixed with regional EEF-related females.

The two available Tauber Valley samples (“Tauber_CWC”) show the same pattern: a quite recent Steppe-related male bias and Anatolia_Neolithic-related female bias. Nevertheless, the male sample clusters ‘to the south’ in the PCA relative to all sampled Corded Ware individuals (see PCA plot below), and shows less Yamnaya-like ancestry than what is reported (or can be inferred) for Yamnaya from Hungary or early Bell Beakers of elevated Steppe-related ancestry.

The ancestry and position of the Althäuser male in the PCA is thus fully compatible with recently incoming East Bell Beakers admixing with local peoples (including Corded Ware) through exogamy, but not so much with a sample that would be expected from Yamanaya vanguard + Corded Ware-related ancestry (more like the Esperstedt outlier or the early France Beaker). Compared to the more ‘northern’ (fully Corded Ware-like) position of his female counterpart, there is little to support that both are part of the same native Tauber valley community after generations of ancestry levelling…

Table S9. Three-way qpAdm admixture model for European MN/Chalcolithic group+Yamnaya_Samara. P-values greater than 0.05 (model is not rejected) marked in green.

4. The haplogroup inference is also unrevealing: whereas the paper reports that it is R1b-P310* (xU106, xP312), there is no data to support a xP312 call, so it may well be even within the P312 branch, like most sampled Bell Beaker males. Similarly, the paper also reports that HUGO_180Sk1 (ca. 2340 BC) shows a positive SNP for the U106 trunk, which would make it the earliest known U106 sample and originally from Central Europe, but there is no clear support for this SNP call, either. At least not in their downloadable BAM files, as far as I can tell. Even if both were true, they would merely confirm the path of expansion of Yamnaya / East Bell Beakers through the Danube, already visible in confirmed genomic data:

Distribution of ‘archaic’ R1b-L51 subclades in ancient samples, overlaid over a map of Yamnaya and Bell Beaker migrations. In blue, Yamnaya Pre-L51 from Lopatino (not shown) and R1b-L52* from BBC Augsburg. In violet, R1b-L51 (xP312,xU106) from BBC Prague and Poland. In maroon, hg. R1b-L151* from BBC Hungary, BA Bohemia, and (not shown) a potential sample from the Tauber Valley and one from BBC at Mondelange, which is certainly xU106, maybe xP312. Interestingly, the earliest sample of hg. R1b-U106 (a lineage more proper of northern Europe) has been found in a Bell Beaker from Radovesice (ca. 2350 BC), between two of these ‘archaic’ R1b-L51 samples; and a sample possibly of hg. R1b-ZZ11+ (ancestral to DF27 and U152) was found in a Bell Beaker from Quedlinburg, Germany (ca. 2290 BC), to the north-west of Bohemia. The oldest R1b-U152 are logically from Central Europe, too.

II.2. Proto-Celts and the Tumulus culture

The most interesting data from Mittnik et al. (2019) – overshadowed by the (at first sight) striking “CWC” label of the Althäuser male – is the finding that the most likely (Pre-)Proto-Celtic community of Southern Germany shows, as expected, major genetic continuity over time with Yamnaya/East Bell Beaker-derived patrilineal families, which suggests an almost full replacement of other Y-chromosome haplogroups in Southern German Bronze Age communities, too.

Sampled families form part of an evolving Bell Beaker-derived European BA cluster in common with other Indo-European-speaking cultures from Western, Southern, and Northern Europe, also including early Balto-Slavs, clearly distinct from the Corded Ware-related clusters surviving in the Eastern Baltic and the forest zone.

This Central European Bronze Age continuity is particularly visible in many generations of different patrilocal families practising female exogamy, showing patrilineal inheritance mainly under R1b-P312 (mostly U152+) lineages proper of Central European bottlenecks, all of them apparently following a similar sociopolitical system spanning roughly a thousand years, since the arrival of East Bell Beakers in the region (ca. 2500 BC) until – at least – the end of the Middle Bronze Age (ca. 1300 BC):

Here, we show a different kind of social inequality in prehistory, i.e., complex households that consisted of i) a higher-status core family, passing on wealth and status to descendants, ii) unrelated, wealthy and high-status non-local women and iii) local, low-status individuals. Based on comparisons of grave goods, several of the high-status non-local females could have come from areas inhabited by the Unetice culture, i.e., from a distance of at least 350 km. As the EBA evidence from most of Southern Germany is very similar to the Lech valley, we suggest that social structures comparable to our microregion existed in a much broader area. The EBA households in the Lech valley, however, seem similar to the later historically known oikos, the household sphere of classic Greece, as well as the Roman familia, both comprising the kin-related family and their slaves.

Genetic structure of Late Neolithic and Bronze Age individuals from southern Germany. (A) Ancient individuals (covered at 20,000 or more SNPs) projected onto principal components defined by 1129 present day west Eurasians (shown in fig. S6); individuals in this study shown with outlines corresponding to their 87Sr/86Sr isotope value (black: consistent with local values, orange: uncertain/intermediate, red: inconsistent with local values). Selected published ancient European individuals are shown without outlines. Image modified from the paper. Surrounded by triangles in cyan, Corded Ware-like females; with a blue triangle, Yamnaya/Early BBC-like sample from the Tauber valley.

NOTE. For those unfamiliar with the usual clusters formed by the different populations in the PCA, you can check similar graphics: PCA with Bell Beaker communities, PCA with Yamnaya settlers from the Carpathians, a similar one from Wang et al. (2019) showing the Yamnaya-Hungary cline, or the chronological PCAs prepared by me for the books.

The gradual increase in local EEF-like ancestry among South Germany EBA and MBA communities over the previous BBC period offers a reasonable explanation as to how Italic and Celtic communities remained in loose contact (enough to share certain innovations) despite their physical separation by the Alps during the Early Bronze Age, and probably why sampled Bell Beakers from France were found to be the closest source of Celts arriving in Iberia during the Urnfield period.

Furthermore, continued contacts with Únětice-related peoples through exogamy also show how Celtic-speaking communities closer to the Danube might have influenced (and might have been influenced by) Germanic-speaking communities of the Nordic Late Neolithic and Bronze Age, helping explain their potentially long-lasting linguistic exchange.

Like other previous Neolithic or Chalcolithic groups that Yamnaya and Bell Beakers encountered in Europe, ancestry related to the Corded Ware culture became part of Bell Beaker groups during their expansion and later during the ancestry levelling in the European Early Bronze Age, which helps us distinguish the evolution of Indo-European-speaking communities in Europe, and suggests likely contacts between different cultural groups separated by hundreds of km. from each other.

All in all, there is nothing to support that (epi-)Corded Ware groups might have survived in any way in Central or Western Europe: whether through their culture, their Y-chromosome haplogroups, or their ancestry, they followed the fate of other rapidly expanding groups before them, viz. Funnelbeaker, Baden, or Globular Amphorae cultural groups. This is very much unlike the West Uralic-speaking territory in the Eastern Baltic and the Russian forests, where Corded Ware-related cultures thrived during the Bronze Age.

f4-statistics showing differences in ancestry in populations grouped by period. An increase in affinity to ancestry related to Anatolia Neolithic over time. Males and females grouped together shown as upward and downward pointing triangles, respectively.


It was about time that geneticists caught up with the relevance of Y-DNA bottlenecks when assessing migrations and cultural developments.

From Malmström et al. (2019):

The paternal lineages found in the BAC/CWC individuals remain enigmatic. The majority of individuals from CWC contexts that have been genetically investigated this far for the Y-chromosome belong to Y-haplogroup R1a, while the majority of sequenced individuals of the presumed source population of Yamnaya steppe herders belong to R1b. R1a has been found in Mesolithic and Neolithic Ukraine. This opens the possibility that the Yamnaya and CWC complexes may have been structured in terms of paternal lineages—possibly due to patrilineal inheritance systems in the societies — and that genetic studies have not yet targeted the direct sources of the expansions into central and northern Europe.

From Gibbons (2019), a commentary to Mittnik et al. (2019):

Some of the early farmers studied were part of the Neolithic Bell Beaker culture, named for the shape of their pots. Later generations of Bronze Age men who retained Bell Beaker DNA were high-ranking, buried with bronze and copper daggers, axes, and chisels. Those men carried a Y chromosome variant that is still common today in Europe. In contrast, low-ranking men without grave goods had different Y chromosomes, showing a different ancestry on their fathers’ side, and suggesting that men with Bell Beaker ancestry were richer and had more sons, whose genes persist to the present.

There was no sign of these women’s daughters in the burials, suggesting they, too, were sent away for marriage, in a pattern that persisted for 700 years. The only local women were girls from high-status families who died before ages 15 to 17, and poor, unrelated women without grave goods, probably servants, Mittnik says. Strontium levels from three men, in contrast, showed that although they had left the valley as teens, they returned as adults.

Also, from Scientific American:

(…) it has long been assumed that prior to the Athenian and Roman empires,—which arose nearly 2,500 and more than 2,000 years ago, respectively—human social structure was relatively straightforward: you had those who were in power and those who were not. A study published Thursday in Science suggests it was not that simple. As far back as 4,000 years ago, at the beginning of the Bronze Age and long before Julius Caesar presided over the Forum, human families of varying status levels had quite intimate relationships. Elites lived together with those of lower social classes and women who migrated in from outside communities. It appears early human societies operated in a complex, class-based system that propagated through generations.

It seems wrong (to me, at least) that the author and – as he believes – archaeologists and historians had “assumed” a different social system for the European Bronze Age, which means they hadn’t read about how Indo-European societies were structured. For example, long ago Benveniste (1969) already drew some coherent picture of these prehistoric peoples based on their reconstructed language alone: regarding their patrilocal and patrilineal family system; regarding their customs of female exogamy and marriage system; and regarding the status of foreigners and slaves as movable property in their society.

A long-lasting and pervasive social system of Bronze Age elites under Yamnaya lineages strikingly similar to this Southern German region can be easily assumed for the British Isles and Iberia, and it is likely to be also found in the Low Countries, Northern Germany, Denmark, Italy, France, Bohemia and Moravia, etc., but also (with some nuances) in Southern Scandinavia and Central-East Europe during the Bronze Age.

Therefore, only the modern genetic pool of some border North-West Indo-European-speaking communities of Europe need further information to describe a precise chain of events before their eventual expansion in more recent times:

  1. the relative geographical isolation causing the visible regional founder effects in Scandinavia, proper of the maritime dominion of the Nordic Late Neolithic (related thus to the Island Biogeography Theory); and
  2. the situation of the (Pre-)Proto-Balto-Slavic community close to the Western Baltic which, I imagine, will be shown to be related to a resurge of local lineages, possibly due to a shift of power structures similar to the case described for Babia Góra.

NOTE. Rumour has it that R1b-L23 lineages have already been found among Mycenaeans, while they haven’t been found among sampled early West European Corded Ware groups, so the westward expansion of Indo-European-speaking Yamnaya-derived peoples mainly with R1b-L23 lineages through the Danube Basin merely lacks official confirmation.


Arrival of steppe ancestry with R1b-P312 in the Mediterranean: Balearic Islands, Sicily, and Iron Age Sardinia


New preprint The Arrival of Steppe and Iranian Related Ancestry in the Islands of the Western Mediterranean by Fernandes, Mittnik, Olalde et al. bioRxiv (2019)

Interesting excerpts (emphasis in bold; modified for clarity):

Balearic Islands: The expansion of Iberian speakers

Mallorca_EBA dates to the earliest period of permanent occupation of the islands at around 2400 BCE. We parsimoniously modeled Mallorca_EBA as deriving 36.9 ± 4.2% of her ancestry from a source related to Yamnaya_Samara; (…). We next used qpAdm to identify “proximal” sources for Mallorca_EBA’s ancestry that are more closely related to this individual in space and time, and found that she can be modeled as a clade with the (small) subset of Iberian Bell Beaker culture associated individuals who carried Steppe-derived ancestry (p=0.442).

Suppl. Materials: The model used was with Bell_Beaker_Iberia_highsteppe, a group of outliers from Iberia buried in a Bell Beaker mortuary context who unlike most individuals from this context in that region had high proportions of Steppe ancestry (p=0.442).

Our estimates of Steppe ancestry in the two later Balearic Islands individuals are lower than the earlier one: 26.3 ± 5.1% for Formentera_MBA and 23.1 ± 3.6% for Menorca_LBA, but the Middle to Late Bronze Age Balearic individuals are not a clade relative to non-Balearic groups. Specifically, we find that f4(Mbuti.DG, X; Formentera_MBA, Menorca_LBA) is positive when X=Iberia_Chalcolithic (Z=2.6) or X=Sardinia_Nuragic_BA (Z=2.7). While it is tempting to interpret the latter statistic as suggesting a genetic link between peoples of the Talaiotic culture of the Balearic islands and the Nuragic culture of Sardinia, the attraction to Iberia_Chalcolithic is just as strong, and the mitochondrial haplogroup U5b1+16189+@16192 in Menorca_LBA is not observed in Sardinia_Nuragic_BA but is observed in multiple Iberia_Chalcolithic individuals. A possible explanation is that both the ancestors of Nuragic Sardinians and the ancestors of Talaiotic people from the Balearic Islands received gene flow from an unsampled Iberian Chalcolithic-related group (perhaps a mainland group affiliated to both) that did not contribute to Formentera_MBA.

This sample, like another one in El Argar, is of hg. R1b-P312. So there you are, the data that connects the Proto-Iberian expansion (replacing IE-speaking Bell Beakers) to the Iberian Chalcolithic population, signaled by the increase in Iberian Chalcolithic ancestry after the arrival of Bell Beakers, most likely connected originally to the Argaric and post-Argaric expansions during the MBA.

PCA with previously published ancient individuals (non-filled symbols), projected onto variation from present-day populations (gray squares).

Steppe in Sardinia IA: Phocaeans from Italy?

Most Sardinians buried in a Nuragic Bronze Age context possessed uniparental haplogroups found in European hunter-gatherers and early farmers, including Y-haplogroup R1b1a[xR1b1a1a] which is different from the characteristic R1b1a1a2a1a2 spread in association with the Bell Beaker complex. An exception is individual I10553 (1226-1056 calBCE) who carried Y-haplogroup J2b2a, previously observed in a Croatian Middle Bronze Age individual bearing Steppe ancestry, suggesting the possibility of genetic input from groups that arrived from the east after the spread of first farmers. This is consistent with the evidence of material culture exchange between Sardinians and mainland Mediterranean groups, although genome-wide analyses find no significant evidence of Steppe ancestry so the quantitative demographic impact was minimal.

Another interesting data, these (Mesolithic) remnant R1b-V88 lineages closely related to the Italian Peninsula, the most likely region of expansion of these lineages into Africa, in turn possibly connected to the expansion of Proto-Afroasiatic.

We detect definitive evidence of Iranian-related ancestry in an Iron Age Sardinian I10366 (391-209 calBCE) with an estimate of 11.9 ± 3.7.% Iran_Ganj_Dareh_Neolithic related ancestry, while rejecting the model with only Anatolian_Neolithic and WHG at p=0.0066 (Supplementary Table 9). The only model that we can fit for this individual using a pair of populations that are closer in time is as a mixture of Iberia_Chalcolithic (11.9 ± 3.2%) and Mycenaean (88.1 ± 3.2%) (p=0.067). This model fits even when including Nuragic Sardinians in the outgroups of the qpAdm analysis, which is consistent with the hypothesis that this individual had little if any ancestry from earlier Sardinians.

Proportions of ancestry using a distal qpAdm framework on an individual basis (a), and based on qpWave clusters

Sicily EBA: The Lusitanian/Ligurian connection?

(…) While a previously reported Bell Beaker culture-associated individual from Sicily had no evidence of Steppe ancestry, (…) we find evidence of Steppe ancestry in the Early Bronze Age by ~2200 BCE. In distal qpAdm, the outlier Sicily_EBA11443 is parsimoniously modeled as harboring 40.2 ± 3.5% Steppe ancestry, and the outlier Sicily_EBA8561 is parsimoniously modeled as harboring 23.3 ± 3.5% Steppe ancestry. (…) The presence of Steppe ancestry in Early Bronze Age Sicily is also evident in Y chromosome analysis, which reveals that 4 of the 5 Early Bronze Age males had Steppe-associated Y-haplogroup R1b1a1a2a1a2. (Online Table 1). Two of these were Y-haplogroup R1b1a1a2a1a2a1 (Z195) which today is largely restricted to Iberia and has been hypothesized to have originated there 2500-2000 BCE. This evidence of west-to-east gene flow from Iberia is also suggested by qpAdm modeling where the only parsimonious proximate source for the Steppe ancestry we found in the main Sicily_EBA cluster is Iberians.

What’s this? An ancestral connection between Sicel Elymian and Galaico-Lusitanian or Ligurian (based on an origin in NE Iberia)? Impossible to say, especially if the languages of these early settlers were replaced later by non-Indo-European speakers from the eastern Mediterranean, and by Indo-European speakers from the mainland closely related to Proto-Italic during the LBA, but see below.

Regarding the comment on R1b-Z195, it is associated with modern Iberians, as DF27 in general, due to founder effects beyond the Pyrenees. It is a very old subclade, split directly from DF27 roughly at the same time as it split from the parent P312, i.e. it can be found anywhere in Europe, and it almost certainly accompanied the expansion of Celts from Central Europe under the subclade R1b-M167/SRY2627.

The connection is thus strong only because of the qpAdm modeling, since R1b-DF27 and subclade R1b-Z195 are certainly lineages expanded quite early, most likely with Yamna settlers in Hungary and East Bell Beakers.

In this case, if stemming from Iberia, it is most likely of subclade R1b-Z220 – or another Z195 (xM167) lineage – originally associated with the Old European substrate found in topo-hydronymy in Iberia, whose most likely remnants attested during the Iron Age were Lusitanians.

Left: Modern distribution of R1b-Z195 (YFull estimate 2700 BC); Right: Modern distribution of DF27. Both include later founder effects within Iberia, so the increase in the Basque country and the Crown of Aragon and the decrease in Portugal can safely be ignored. Contour maps of the derived allele frequencies of the SNPs analyzed in Solé-Morata et al. (2017).

We detect Iranian-related ancestry in Sicily by the Middle Bronze Age 1800-1500 BCE, consistent with the directional shift of these individuals toward Mycenaeans in PCA. Specifically, two of the Middle Bronze Age individuals can only be fit with models that in addition to Anatolia_Neolithic and WHG, include Iran_Ganj_Dareh_Neolithic. The most parsimonious model for Sicily_MBA3125 has 18.0 ± 3.6% Iranian-related ancestry (p=0.032 for rejecting the alternative model of Steppe rather than Iranian-related ancestry), and the most parsimonious model for Sicily_MBA has 14.9 ± 3.9% Iranian-related ancestry (p=0.037 for rejecting the alternative model).

The modern southern Italian Caucasus-related signal identified in Raveane et al. (2018) is plausibly related to the same Iranian-related spread of ancestry into Sicily that we observe in the Middle Bronze Age (and possibly the Early Bronze Age).

The non-Indo-European Sicanians and Elymians were possibly then connected to eastern Mediterranean groups before the expansion of the Sea Peoples.

For the Late Bronze Age group of individuals, qpAdm documented Steppe-related ancestry, modeling this group as 80.2 ± 1.8% Anatolia_Neolithic, 5.3 ± 1.6% WHG, and 14.5 ± 2.2% Yamnaya_Samara. Our modeling using sources more closely related in space and time also supports Sicily_LBA having Minoan-related ancestry or being derived from local preceding populations or individuals with ancestries similar to those of Sicily_EBA3123 (p=0.527), Sicily_MBA3124 (p=0.352), and Sicily_MBA3125 (p=0.095).

This increase in Steppe-related ancestry in a western site during the LBA most likely represents either an expansion from the Aegean or – maybe more likely, given the archaeological finds – a regional population similar to Sicily EBA re-emerging or rather being displaced from the eastern part of the island because of a westward movement from nearby Calabria.

Whether this population sampled spoke Indo-European or not at this time is questionable, since the Iron Age accounts show non-IE Elymians in this region.

Actually, Elymians seem to have spoken Indo-European, which fits well with the increase in steppe ancestry.

EDIT (21 MAR): Interesting about a proposed incoming Minoan-like ancestry is the potential origin of the Iran Neolithic-related ancestry that is going to appear in Central Italy during the LBA. This could then be potentially associated with Tyrsenians passing through the area, although the traditional description may be more more compatible with an arrival of Sea Peoples from the Adriatic.

Sad to read this:

This manuscript is dedicated to the memory of Sebastiano Tusa of the Soprintendenza del Mare in Palermo, who would have been an author of this study had he not tragically died in the crash of Ethiopia Airlines flight 302 on March 10.


Cystic fibrosis probably spread with expanding Bell Beakers


New paper (behind paywall) Estimating the age of p.(Phe508del) with family studies of geographically distinct European populations and the early spread of cystic fibrosis, by Farrell et al., European Journal of Human Genetics (2018).

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

Our results revealed tMRCA average values ranging from 4725 to 1175 years ago and support the estimates of Serre et al. (3000–6000 years ago) [11], rather than Morral et al. (52,000 years ago) [6], but the latter figure was challenged by Kaplan et al. [26] because of disagreement with assumptions used in their calculations. In addition, the tMRCA values from western European regions reported herein refine the results of Fichou et al. [7] from a study of Breton CF patients in which the Estiage analysis suggested that the most common recent ancestor lived 115 generations ago. That tMRCA value, however, may have underestimated the age of p.(Phe508del) in Brittany due to consideration of all the haplotypes, even those that were reconstructed with ambiguities, as well as a potential bias associated with consanguinity due to including both haplotypes in homozygous families. In the more stringent Estiage analyses reported herein, those potential biases were avoided for all populations, leading to estimates of the oldest tMCRA values corresponding to the Early Bronze Age in western Europe, which is generally agreed to begin around 3000 BCE. This finding extends our results from a direct investigation of aDNA in teeth from Iron Age burials near Vienna around 350 BCE and allow us to conclude that p.(Phe508del) was present in that region long before then. More specifically, in the Austrian families studied, the Estiage data revealed a mean tMCRA value of 3575 years ago, which converts to 1558 BCE (Middle Bronze Age) [22].

Perhaps most remarkably, the estimated ages of p.(Phe508del) in the three western European regions (France, Ireland, and Denmark) were similar with closely overlapping 95% CI values. This observation is also in line with previously documented spatial autocorrelograms expressing genetic and geographical distance for these populations [24]. Such data provide more insight about the ancient origin of CF in our judgment—both when and where—and lead us to propose that CFTR p.(Phe508del) is derived from ancestors who lived in western Europe during the Bronze Age, as early as 2700 BCE, and that its relatively rapid dissemination occurred because of human migrations around the northwestern Atlantic trading routes [21] and then towards central and eastern Europe [22]. Diffusion from northwestern to central Europe in approximately 1000 years is consistent with the prominent Bronze Age migrations evident in the archeological record [21, 22] and from genomic studies of aDNA [27]. On the other hand, we are assuming a discrete origin of the principal CF-causing variant, but it is possible that p.(Phe508del) arose more than once or earlier, and then reached western Europe subsequently through Neolithic migrations.


[About Bell Beakers] (…) More specifically, their distinctive Bell Beaker pottery appeared and spread across western and central Europe beginning around 3000–2750 BCE and then disappeared between 2200 and 1800 BCE [22, 29]. Their migrations are linked to the advent of western and central European metallurgy, as they manufactured and traded metal goods, especially weapons, while traveling over long distances [30]. Most relevant to our study is the evidence that they migrated in a direction and over a time period that fits well with the pattern of tMRCA data we found for the p.(Phe508del) variant. Olalde et al. [29] have shown that both migration and cultural transmission played a major role in diffusion of the “Beaker Complex” and led to a “profound demographic transformation” of Britain after 2400 BCE. Moreover, the cultural elements that unite the widely distributed Beaker folk are so obvious that some have considered them a distinct ethnicity of Bronze Age people [33].

From our results, we propose the novel concept that large scale, long term west-to-east migrations of the Bell Beaker Europeans [22, 28–30] during the Bronze Age, could explain the dissemination of p.(Phe508del) in Europe and its documented northwest-to-southeast gradient [4].In fact, our tMRCA data show a temporal gradient also.

As you can see from the references, they consulted with Barry Cunliffe (or people accepting his theory), who is obsessed with Bell Beakers expanding Celtic languages from the British Isles. He is like the British equivalent of Danish scholar Kristian Kristiansen, and his obsession with Corded Ware = Indo-European (and Germanic = CWC Denmark), immutable no matter what genetic results might show.

The funny thing is, the interpretation of the paper is probably right. From what we can see in the data, it is quite possible that the disease spread with expanding Bell Beakers…only it spread from the East group in Hungary, i.e. from east to west. The regional difference in TMRCA and apparent west—east cline would point to the different expansions of affected lineages in the corresponding regions, and not to an origin in the British Isles.


Lazaridis’ evolutionary history of human populations in Europe

Preprint of a review by Iosif Lazaridis, The evolutionary history of human populations in Europe.

Interesting excerpts:

Steppe populations during the Eneolithic to Bronze Age were a mix of at least two elements[28], the EHG who lived in eastern Europe ~8kya and a southern population element related to present-day Armenians[28], and ancient Caucasus hunter-gatherers[22], and farmers from Iran[24]. Steppe migrants made a massive impact in Central and Northern Europe post- 5kya[28,43]. Some of them expanded eastward, founding the Afanasievo culture[43] and also eventually reached India[24]. These expansions are probable vectors for the spread of Late Proto-Indo-European[44] languages from eastern Europe into both mainland Europe and parts of Asia, but the lack of steppe ancestry in the few known samples from Bronze Age Anatolia[45] raises the possibility that the steppe was not the ultimate origin of Proto-Indo-European (PIE), the common ancestral language of Anatolian speakers, Tocharians, and Late Proto-Indo Europeans. In the next few years this lingering mystery will be solved: either Anatolian speakers will be shown to possess steppe-related ancestry absent in earlier Anatolians (largely proving the steppe PIE hypothesis), or they will not (largely falsifying it, and pointing to a Near Eastern PIE homeland).

Our understanding of the spread of steppe ancestry into mainland Europe is becoming increasingly crisp. Samples from the Bell Beaker complex[46] are heterogeneous, with those from Iberia lacking steppe ancestry that was omnipresent in those from Central Europe, casting new light on the “pots vs. people” debate in archaeology, which argues that it is dangerous to propose a tight link between material culture and genetic origins. Nonetheless, it is also dangerous to dismiss it completely. Recent studies have shown that people associated with the Corded Ware culture in the Baltics[23,33] were genetically similar to those from Central Europe and to steppe pastoralists[28,43], and the people associated with the Bell Beaker culture in Britain traced ~90% of their ancestry to the continent, being highly similar to Bell Beaker populations there. Bell Beaker-associated individuals were bearers of steppe ancestry into the British Isles that was also present in Bronze Age Ireland[47], and Iron Age and Anglo-Saxon England[48]. The high genetic similarity between people from the British Isles and those of the continent makes it more difficult to trace migrations into the Isles. This high similarity masks a very detailed fine-scale population structure that has been revealed by study of present-day individuals[49]; a similar type of analysis applied to ancient DNA has the potential to reveal fine-grained population structure in ancient European populations as well.

Steppe ancestry did arrive into Iberia during the Bronze Age[50], but to a much lesser degree. A limited effect of steppe ancestry in Iberia is also shown by the study of mtDNA[51], which shows no detectible change during the Chalcolithic/Early Bronze Age[51], in contrast to central Europe[52]. Sex-biased gene flow has been implicated in the spread of steppe ancestry into Europe[33,53], although the presence and extent of such bias has been debated[54,55]. One aspect of the demographies of males and females was clearly different, as paternally-inherited Y-chromosome lineages experienced a bottleneck <10 kya which is not evident in maternally-inherited mtDNA[56], suggesting that many men living today trace their patrilineal ancestry to a relatively small number of men of the Neolithic and Bronze Ages.

Modified image, from the preprint. “A sketch of European evolutionary history based on ancient DNA. Bronze Age Europeans (~4.5-3kya) were a mixture of mainly two proximate sources of ancestry: (i) the Neolithic farmers of ~8-5kya who were themselves variable mixtures of farmers from Anatolia and hunter-gatherers of mainland Europe (WHG), and (ii) Bronze Age steppe migrants of ~5kya who were themselves a mixture of hunter-gatherers of eastern Europe (EHG) and southern populations from the Near East (…)”

Firstly, Tocharian (mentioned side by side with Anatolian and LPIE) has been discussed by linguists for quite some time now to be a more archaizing language than the rest, hence the linguistic proposal that it separated first – found to correspond beautifully with the expansion of Khvalynsk/Repin into Afanasevo – ; but it separated first from the common Late PIE trunk. Anatolian clearly separated earlier, from a Middle PIE stage.

Secondly, while Genomics could no doubt falsify the Balkan route for Anatolian, and make us come back to a Maykop route from the steppe (or even a Near Eastern PIE homeland, who knows), I doubt such falsification could come simply from sampled “Anatolian speakers”:

If there is no steppe ancestry in Anatolian speakers (of the 2nd millennium BC), a dismissal of the mainstream migration model could happen only when both potential routes of expansion, the selected cultures from the Balkans and the Caucasus, are sampled in the appropriate time period since the estimated separation (i.e. from the 5th millennium BC), until one of both routes shows the right migration picture.

On the other hand, if some samples from either Romania/Bulgaria or the Caucasus (and/or Anatolian speakers) show steppe ancestry and/or R1b-M269 lineages, as is expected, then the matter won’t need much more explanation.

In fact, the text goes on to define how male lineages experienced a bottleneck after ca. 8000 BC, i.e. accompanying Neolithisation – probably including the formation of Sredni Stog and early Khvalynsk, as it is becoming now clear – , when explaining how it is possible to demonstrate that East Bell Beaker migrants (of R1b-L23 lineages, it is to be understood) with few steppe ancestry reached Iberia.

This was already pointed out not long ago by David Reich, and I am glad to see more scholars showing the importance of taking phylogeography into account over statistical methods when assessing migrations, even if it is only used in those cases in which it does not disrupt too much previous interpretations, like that of the 2015 papers and the proposal of the ‘Yamnaya ancestral component’.

I found it refreshing that for the first time Corded Ware migrants – or, rather, their shared genetic relationship with Eneolithic steppe groups – were accepted (if only indirectly) as a confounding factor in assessing migrations of Bell Beakers. It is a step in the right direction, and it is a relief to read this from someone working with the Reich Lab.

Not just a few (and not only amateurs) are still scratching their heads trying to explain with the most imaginative (and unnecessary) novel migration routes the elevated steppe ancestry and closer relation (PCA cluster, FST, F3, etc.) to CWC and Yamna (due evidently to the absorbed CWC population) in some of the recently published Bell Beaker samples from Central Europe, the Netherlands, and later in Great Britain, compared to samples of South-East Europe near the Middle to Upper Danube region, the obvious homeland of East Bell Beakers, formed from Yamna settlers.

I found it also interesting that Lazaridis mentioned a southern population element related to CHG and Iran farmers. This should help dissipate the hype that some have artificially created as of late over a potential Northern Iranian homeland based on a single paragraph from David Reich’s book.

EDIT (9 MAY 2018). Lazaridis posted an answer to my questioning of potential Proto-Anatolian origins divided in tweets (I post a link to the first tweet, then the text in full):

The steppe hypothesis predicts some genetic input from eastern Europe (EHG) to Anatolia.

– Bronze Age Anatolians (Lazaridis et al. 2017) from historically IE-speaking Pisidia lack EHG; more samples obviously needed


  1. Additional Anatolian samples will have EHG: consistent with steppe PIE
  2. Additional Anatolian samples will not have EHG, then either:
    1. Steppe not PIE homeland
    2. Steppe PIE homeland but linguistic impact in Anatolia vastly greater than genetic impact

Tentative steppe->Anatolia movements reach Balkans early (Mathieson et al. 2018) and Armenia (some EHG in Lazaridis et al. 2016).

But not the last leg to Anatolia_ChL (Lazaridis et al. 2016) or Anatolia_BA (Lazaridis et al. 2017).

  • If Anatolians consistently don’t have EHG, steppe PIE is very difficult to affirm; Near Eastern alternative likely (contributing CHG/Iran_N-related ancestry to both western Anatolia/steppe)
  • If Anatolians have EHG, one could further investigate by what route they got it.

One way or another PIE homeland problem is almost solved IMHO, which is what my review tries to get at in that short section