Neolithic and Bronze Age Anatolia, Urals, Fennoscandia, Italy, and Hungary (ISBA 8, 20th Sep)


I will post information on ISBA 8 sesions today as I see them on Twitter (see programme in PDF, and sessions from yesterday).

Official abstracts are listed first (emphasis mine), then reports and images and/or link to tweets. Here is the list for quick access:

Russian colonization in Yakutia

Exploring the genomic impact of colonization in north-eastern Siberia, by Seguin-Orlando et al.

Yakutia is the coldest region in the northern hemisphere, with winter record temperatures below minus 70°C. The ability of Yakut people to adapt both culturally and biologically to extremely cold temperatures has been key to their subsistence. They are believed to descend from an ancestral population, which left its original homeland in the Lake Baykal area following the Mongol expansion between the 13th and 15th centuries AD. They originally developed a semi-nomadic lifestyle, based on horse and cattle breeding, providing transportation, primary clothing material, meat, and milk. The early colonization by Russians in the first half of the 17th century AD, and their further expansion, have massively impacted indigenous populations. It led not only to massive epidemiological outbreaks, but also to an important dietary shift increasingly relying on carbohydrate-rich resources, and a profound lifestyle transition with the gradual conversion from Shamanism to Christianity and the establishment of new marriage customs. Leveraging an exceptional archaeological collection of more than a hundred of bodies excavated by MAFSO (Mission Archéologique Française en Sibérie Orientale) over the last 15 years and naturally kept frozen by the extreme cold temperatures of Yakutia, we have started to characterize the (epi)genome of indigenous individuals who lived from the 16th to the 20th century AD. Current data include the genome sequence of approximately 50 individuals that lived prior to and after Russian contact, at a coverage from 2 to 40 fold. Combined with data from archaeology and physical anthropology, as well as microbial DNA preserved in the specimens, our unique dataset is aimed at assessing the biological consequences of the social and biological changes undergone by the Yakut people following their neolithisation by Russian colons.

NOTE: For another interesting study on Yakutian tribes, see Relationships between clans and genetic kin explain cultural similarities over vast distances.

Ancient DNA from a Medieval trading centre in Northern Finland

Using ancient DNA to identify the ancestry of individuals from a Medieval trading centre in Northern Finland, by Simoes et al.

Analyzing genomic information from archaeological human remains has proved to be a powerful approach to understand human history. For the archaeological site of Ii Hamina, ancient DNA can be used to infer the ancestries of individuals buried there. Situated approximately 30 km from Oulu, in Northern Finland, Ii Hamina was an important trade place since Medieval times. The historical context indicates that the site could have been a melting pot for different cultures and people of diversified genetic backgrounds. Archaeological and osteological evidence from different individuals suggest a rich diversity. For example, stable isotope analyses indicate that freshwater and marine fish was the dominant protein source for this population. However, one individual proved to be an outlier, with a diet containing relatively more terrestrial meat or vegetables. The variety of artefacts that was found associated with several human remains also points to potential differences in religious beliefs or social status. In this study, we aimed to investigate if such variation could be attributed to different genetic ancestries. Ten of the individuals buried in Ii Hamina’s churchyard, dating to between the 15th and 17th century AD, were screened for presence of authentic ancient DNA. We retrieved genome-wide data for six of the individuals and performed downstream analysis. Data authenticity was confirmed by DNA damage patterns and low estimates of mitochondrial contamination. The relatively recent age of these human remains allows for a direct comparison to modern populations. A combination of population genetics methods was undertaken to characterize their genetic structure, and identify potential familiar relationships. We found a high diversity of mitochondrial lineages at the site. In spite of the putatively distant origin of some of the artifacts, most individuals shared a higher affinity to the present-day Finnish or Late Settlement Finnish populations. Interestingly, different methods consistently suggested that the individual with outlier isotopic values had a different genetic origin, being more closely related to reindeer herding Saami. Here we show how data from different sources, such as stable isotopes, can be intersected with ancient DNA in order to get a more comprehensive understanding of the human past.

A closer look at the bottom left corner of the poster (the left columns are probably the new samples):


Plant resources processed in HG pottery from the Upper Volga

Multiple criteria for the detection of plant resources processed in hunter-gatherer pottery vessels from the Upper Volga, Russia, by Bondetti et al.

In Northern Eurasia, the Neolithic is marked by the adoption of pottery by hunter-gatherer communities. The degree to which this is related to wider social and lifestyle changes is subject to ongoing debate and the focus of a new research programme. The use and function of early pottery by pre-agricultural societies during the 7th-5th millennia BC is of central interest to this debate. Organic residue analysis provides important information about pottery use. This approach relies on the identification and isotopic characteristics of lipid biomarkers, absorbed into the pores of the ceramic or charred deposits adhering to pottery vessel surfaces, using a combined methodology, namely GC-MS, GC-c-IRMS and EA-IRMS. However, while animal products (e.g., marine, freshwater, ruminant, porcine) have the benefit of being lipid-rich and well-characterised at the molecular and isotopic level, the identification of plant resources still suffers from a lack of specific criteria for identification. In huntergatherer contexts this problem is exacerbated by the wide range of wild, foraged plant resources that may have been potentially exploited. Here we evaluate approaches for the characterisation of terrestrial plant food in pottery through the study of pottery assemblages from Zamostje 2 and Sakhtysh 2a, two hunter-gatherer settlements located in the Upper Volga region of Russia.

GC-MS analysis of the lipids, extracted from the ceramics and charred residues by acidified methanol, suggests that pottery use was primarily oriented towards terrestrial and aquatic animal products. However, while many of the Early Neolithic vessels contain lipids distinctive of freshwater resources, triterpenoids are also present in high abundance suggesting mixing with plant products. When considering the isotopic criteria, we suggest that plants were a major commodity processed in pottery at this time. This is supported by the microscopic identification of Viburnum (Viburnum Opulus L.) berries in the charred deposits on several vessels from Zamostje.

The study of Upper Volga pottery demonstrated the importance of using a multidisciplinary approach to determine the presence of plant resources in vessels. Furthermore, this informs the selection of samples, often subject to freshwater reservoir effects, for 14C dating.

Studies on hunter-gatherer pottery – appearing in eastern Europe before Middle Eastern Neolithic pottery – may be important to understand the arrival of R1a-M17 lineages to the region before ca. 7000 BC. Or not, right now it is not very clear what happened with R1b-P297 and R1a-M17, and with WHG—EHG—ANE ancestry

Bronze Age population dynamics and the rise of dairy pastoralism on the eastern Eurasian steppe

Bronze Age population dynamics and the rise of dairy pastoralism on the eastern Eurasian steppe, by Warinner et al.

Recent paleogenomic studies have shown that migrations of Western steppe herders (WSH), beginning in the Eneolithic (ca. 3300-2700 BCE), profoundly transformed the genes and cultures of Europe and Central Asia. Compared to Europe, the eastern extent of this WSH expansion is not well defined. Here we present genomic and proteomic data from 22 directly dated Bronze Age khirigsuur burials from Khövsgöl, Mongolia (ca. 1380-975 BCE). Only one individual showed evidence of WSH ancestry, despite the presence of WSH populations in the nearby Altai-Sayan region for more than a millennium. At the same time, LCMS/ MS analysis of dental calculus provides direct protein evidence of milk consumption from Western domesticated livestock in 7 of 9 individuals. Our results show that dairy pastoralism was adopted by Bronze Age Mongolians despite minimal genetic exchange with Western steppe herders.

Detail of the images:



Modern Sardinians show elevated Neolithic farmer ancestry shared with Basques


New paper (behind paywall), Genomic history of the Sardinian population, by Chiang et al. Nature Genetics (2018), previously published as a preprint at bioRxiv (2016).

#EDIT (18 Sep 2018): Link to read paper for free shared by the main author.

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

Our analysis of divergence times suggests the population lineage ancestral to modern-day Sardinia was effectively isolated from the mainland European populations ~140–250 generations ago, corresponding to ~4,300–7,000 years ago assuming a generation time of 30 years and a mutation rate of 1.25 × 10−8 per basepair per generation. (…) in terms of relative values, the divergence time between Northern and Southern Europeans is much more recent than either is to Sardinia, signaling the relative isolation of Sardinia from mainland Europe.

We documented fine-scale variation in the ancient population ancestry proportions across the island. The most remote and interior areas of Sardinia—the Gennargentu massif covering the central and eastern regions, including the present-day province of Ogliastra— are thought to have been the least exposed to contact with outside populations. We found that pre-Neolithic hunter-gatherer and Neolithic farmer ancestries are enriched in this region of isolation. Under the premise that Ogliastra has been more buffered from recent immigration to the island, one interpretation of the result is that the early populations of Sardinia were an admixture of the two ancestries, rather than the pre-Neolithic ancestry arriving via later migrations from the mainland. Such admixture could have occurred principally on the island or on the mainland before the hypothesized Neolithic era influx to the island. Under the alternative premise that Ogliastra is simply a highly isolated region that has differentiated within Sardinia due to genetic drift, the result would be interpreted as genetic drift leading to a structured pattern of pre-Neolithic ancestry across the island, in an overall background of high Neolithic ancestry.

PCA results of merged Sardinian whole-genome sequences and the HGDP Sardinians. See below for a map of the corresponding regions.

We found Sardinians show a signal of shared ancestry with the Basque in terms of the outgroup f3 shared-drift statistics. This is consistent with long-held arguments of a connection between the two populations, including claims of Basque-like, non-Indo-European words among Sardinian placenames. More recently, the Basque have been shown to be enriched for Neolithic farmer ancestry and Indo-European languages have been associated with steppe population expansions in the post-Neolithic Bronze Age. These results support a model in which Sardinians and the Basque may both retain a legacy of pre-Indo-European Neolithic ancestry. To be cautious, while it seems unlikely, we cannot exclude that the genetic similarity between the Basque and Sardinians is due to an unsampled pre-Neolithic population that has affinities with the Neolithic representatives analyzed here.

Left: Geographical map of Sardinia. The provincial boundaries are given as black lines. The provinces are abbreviated as Cag (Cagliari), Cmp (Campidano), Car (Carbonia), Ori (Oristano), Sas (Sassari), Olb (Olbia-tempio), Nuo (Nuoro), and Ogl (Ogliastra). For sampled villages within Ogliastra, the names and abbreviations are indicated in the colored boxes. The color corresponds to the color used in the PCA plot (Fig. 2a). The Gennargentu region referred to in the main text is the mountainous area shown in brown that is centered in western Ogliastra and southeastern Nuoro.
Right: Density of Nuraghi in Sardinia, from Wikipedia.

While we can confirm that Sardinians principally have Neolithic ancestry on the autosomes, the high frequency of two Y-chromosome haplogroups (I2a1a1 at ~39% and R1b1a2 at ~18%) that are not typically affiliated with Neolithic ancestry is one challenge to this model. Whether these haplogroups rose in frequency due to extensive genetic drift and/or reflect sex-biased demographic processes has been an open question. Our analysis of X chromosome versus autosome diversity suggests a smaller effective size for males, which can arise due to multiple processes, including polygyny, patrilineal inheritance rules, or transmission of reproductive success. We also find that the genetic ancestry enriched in Sardinia is more prevalent on the X chromosome than the autosome, suggesting that male lineages may more rapidly trace back to the mainland. Considering that the R1b1a2 haplogroup may be associated with post-Neolithic steppe ancestry expansions in Europe, and the recent timeframe when the R1b1a2 lineages expanded in Sardinia, the patterns raise the possibility of recent male-biased steppe ancestry migration to Sardinia, as has been reported among mainland Europeans at large (though see Lazaridis and Reich and Goldberg et al.). Such a recent influx is difficult to square with the overall divergence of Sardinian populations observed here.

Mixture proportions of the three-component ancestries among Sardinian populations. Using a method first presented in Haak et al. (Nature 522, 207–211, 2015), we computed unbiased estimates of mixture proportions without a parameterized model of relationships between the test populations and the outgroup populations based on f4 statistics. The three-component ancestries were represented by early Neolithic individuals from the LBK culture (LBK_EN), pre-Neolithic huntergatherers (Loschbour), and Bronze Age steppe pastoralists (Yamnaya). See Supplementary Table 5 for standard error estimates computed using a block jackknife.

Once again, haplogroup R1b1a2 (M269), and only R1b1a2, related to male-biased, steppe-related Indo-European migrations…just sayin’.

Interestingly, haplogroup I2a1a1 is actually found among northern Iberians during the Neolithic and Chalcolithic, and is therefore associated with Neolithic ancestry in Iberia, too, and consequently – unless there is a big surprise hidden somewhere – with the ancestry found today among Basques.

NOTE. In fact, the increase in Neolithic ancestry found in south-west Ireland with expanding Bell Beakers (likely Proto-Beakers), coupled with the finding of I2a subclades in Megalithic cultures of western Europe, would support this replacement after the Cardial and Epi-Cardial expansions, which were initially associated with G2a lineages.

I am not convinced about a survival of Palaeo-Sardo after the Bell Beaker expansion, though, since there is no clear-cut cultural divide (and posterior continuity) of pre-Beaker archaeological cultures after the arrival of Bell Beakers in the island that could be identified with the survival of Neolithic languages.

We may have to wait for ancient DNA to show a potential expansion of Neolithic ancestry from the west, maybe associated with the emergence of the Nuragic civilization (potentially linked with contemporaneous Megalithic cultures in Corsica and in the Balearic Islands, and thus with an Iberian rather than a Basque stock), although this is quite speculative at this moment in linguistic, archaeological, and genetic terms.

Nevertheless, it seems that the association of a Basque-Iberian language with the Neolithic expansion from Anatolia (see Villar’s latest book on the subject) is somehow strengthened by this paper. However, it is unclear when, how, and where expanding G2a subclades were replaced by native I2 lineages.


Migrations in the Levant region during the Chalcolithic, also marked by distinct Y-DNA


Open access Ancient DNA from Chalcolithic Israel reveals the role of population mixture in cultural transformation, by Harney et al. Nature Communications (2018).

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine, reference numbers deleted for clarity):


The material culture of the Late Chalcolithic period in the southern Levant contrasts qualitatively with that of earlier and later periods in the same region. The Late Chalcolithic in the Levant is characterized by increases in the density of settlements, introduction of sanctuaries, utilization of ossuaries in secondary burials, and expansion of public ritual practices as well as an efflorescence of symbolic motifs sculpted and painted on artifacts made of pottery, basalt, copper, and ivory. The period’s impressive metal artifacts, which reflect the first known use of the “lost wax” technique for casting of copper, attest to the extraordinary technical skill of the people of this period.

The distinctive cultural characteristics of the Late Chalcolithic period in the Levant (often related to the Ghassulian culture, although this term is not in practice applied to the Galilee region where this study is based) have few stylistic links to the earlier or later material cultures of the region, which has led to extensive debate about the origins of the people who made this material culture. One hypothesis is that the Chalcolithic culture in the region was spread in part by immigrants from the north (i.e., northern Mesopotamia), based on similarities in artistic designs. Others have suggested that the local populations of the Levant were entirely responsible for developing this culture, and that any similarities to material cultures to the north are due to borrowing of ideas and not to movements of people.

Previous genome-wide ancient DNA studies from the Near East have revealed that at the time when agriculture developed, populations from Anatolia, Iran, and the Levant were approximately as genetically differentiated from each other as present-day Europeans and East Asians are today. By the Bronze Age, however, expansion of different Near Eastern agriculturalist populations — Anatolian, Iranian, and Levantine — in all directions and admixture with each other substantially homogenized populations across the region, thereby contributing to the relatively low genetic differentiation that prevails today. Showed that the Levant Bronze Age population from the site of ‘Ain Ghazal, Jordan (2490–2300 BCE) could be fit statistically as a mixture of around 56% ancestry from a group related to Levantine Pre-Pottery Neolithic agriculturalists (represented by ancient DNA from Motza, Israel and ‘Ain Ghazal, Jordan; 8300–6700 BCE) and 44% related to populations of the Iranian Chalcolithic (Seh Gabi, Iran; 4680–3662 calBCE). Suggested that the Canaanite Levant Bronze Age population from the site of Sidon, Lebanon (~1700 BCE) could be modeled as a mixture of the same two groups albeit in different proportions (48% Levant Neolithic-related and 52% Iran Chalcolithic-related). However, the Neolithic and Bronze Age sites analyzed so far in the Levant are separated in time by more than three thousand years, making the study of samples that fill in this gap, such as those from Peqi’in, of critical importance.

This procedure produced genome-wide data from 22 ancient individuals from Peqi’in Cave (4500–3900 calBCE) (…)


We find that the individuals buried in Peqi’in Cave represent a relatively genetically homogenous population. This homogeneity is evident not only in the genome-wide analyses but also in the fact that most of the male individuals (nine out of ten) belong to the Y-chromosome haplogroup T, a lineage thought to have diversified in the Near East. This finding contrasts with both earlier (Neolithic and Epipaleolithic) Levantine populations, which were dominated by haplogroup E, and later Bronze Age individuals, all of whom belonged to haplogroup J.

Detailed sample background data for each of the 22 samples from which we successfully obtained ancient DNA. Additionally, background information for all samples from Peqi’in that were screened is included in Supplementary Data 1. *Indicates that Y-chromosome haplogroup call should be interpreted with caution, due to low coverage data.

Our finding that the Levant_ChL population can be well-modeled as a three-way admixture between Levant_N (57%), Anatolia_N (26%), and Iran_ChL (17%), while the Levant_BA_South can be modeled as a mixture of Levant_N (58%) and Iran_ChL (42%), but has little if any additional Anatolia_N-related ancestry, can only be explained by multiple episodes of population movement. The presence of Iran_ChL-related ancestry in both populations – but not in the earlier Levant_N – suggests a history of spread into the Levant of peoples related to Iranian agriculturalists, which must have occurred at least by the time of the Chalcolithic. The Anatolian_N component present in the Levant_ChL but not in the Levant_BA_South sample suggests that there was also a separate spread of Anatolian-related people into the region. The Levant_BA_South population may thus represent a remnant of a population that formed after an initial spread of Iran_ChL-related ancestry into the Levant that was not affected by the spread of an Anatolia_N-related population, or perhaps a reintroduction of a population without Anatolia_N-related ancestry to the region. We additionally find that the Levant_ChL population does not serve as a likely source of the Levantine-related ancestry in present-day East African populations.

These genetic results have striking correlates to material culture changes in the archaeological record. The archaeological finds at Peqi’in Cave share distinctive characteristics with other Chalcolithic sites, both to the north and south, including secondary burial in ossuaries with iconographic and geometric designs. It has been suggested that some Late Chalcolithic burial customs, artifacts and motifs may have had their origin in earlier Neolithic traditions in Anatolia and northern Mesopotamia. Some of the artistic expressions have been related to finds and ideas and to later religious concepts such as the gods Inanna and Dumuzi from these more northern regions. The knowledge and resources required to produce metallurgical artifacts in the Levant have also been hypothesized to come from the north.

Our finding of genetic discontinuity between the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age periods also resonates with aspects of the archeological record marked by dramatic changes in settlement patterns, large-scale abandonment of sites, many fewer items with symbolic meaning, and shifts in burial practices, including the disappearance of secondary burial in ossuaries. This supports the view that profound cultural upheaval, leading to the extinction of populations, was associated with the collapse of the Chalcolithic culture in this region.

Genetic structure of analyzed individuals. a Principal component analysis of 984 present-day West Eurasians (shown in gray) with 306 ancient samples projected onto the first two principal component axes and labeled by culture. b ADMIXTURE analysis of 984 and 306 ancient samples with K = 11
ancestral components. Only ancient samples are shown


I think the most interesting aspect of this paper is – as usual – the expansion of peoples associated with a single Y-DNA haplogroup. Given that the expansion of Semitic languages in the Middle East – like that of Anatolian languages from the north – must have happened after ca. 3100 BC, coinciding with the collapse of the Uruk period, these Chalcolithic north Levant peoples are probably not related to the posterior Semitic expansion in the region. This can be said to be supported by their lack of relationship with posterior Levantine migrations into Africa. The replacement of haplogroup E before the arrival of haplogroup J suggests still more clearly that Natufians and their main haplogroup were not related to the Afroasiatic expansions.

Distribution of Semitic languages. From Wikipedia.

On the other hand, while their ancestry points to neighbouring regional origins, their haplogroup T1a1a (probably T1a1a1b2) may be closely related to that of other Semitic peoples to the south, as found in east Africa and Arabia. This may be due either to a northern migration of these Chalcolithic Levantine peoples from southern regions in the 5th millennium BC, or maybe to a posterior migration of Semitic peoples from the Levant to the south, coupled with the expansion of this haplogroup, but associated with a distinct population. As we know, ancestry can change within certain generations of intense admixture, while Y-DNA haplogroups are not commonly admixed in prehistoric population expansions.

Without more data from ancient DNA, it is difficult to say. Haplogroup T1a1 is found in Morocco (ca. 3780-3650 calBC), which could point to a recent expansion of a Berbero-Semitic branch; but also in a sample from Balkans Neolithic ca. 5800-5400 calBCE, which could suggest an Anatolian origin of the specific subclades encountered here. In any case, a potential origin of Proto-Semitic anywhere near this wide Near Eastern region ca. 4500-3500 BC cannot be discarded, knowing that their ancestors came probably from Africa.

Distribution of haplogroup T of Y-chromosome. From Wikipedia.

Interesting from this paper is also that we are yet to find a single prehistoric population expansion not associated with a reduction of variability and expansion of Y-DNA haplogroups. It seems that the supposedly mixed Yamna community remains the only (hypothetical) example in history where expanding patrilineal clans will not share Y-DNA haplogroup…


Modelling of prehistoric dispersal of rice varieties in India point to a north-western origin


New paper (behind paywall), A tale of two rice varieties: Modelling the prehistoric dispersals of japonica and proto-indica rices, by Silva et al., The Holocene (2018).

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):


Our empirical evidence comes from the Rice Archaeological Database (RAD). The first version of this database was used for a synthesis of rice dispersal by Fuller et al. (2010), a slightly expanded dataset (version 1.1) was used to model the dispersal of rice, land area under wet rice cultivation and associated methane emissions from 5000–1000 BP (Fuller et al., 2011). The present dataset (version 2) was used in a previous analysis of the origins of rice domestication (Silva et al., 2015). The database records sites and chronological phases within sites where rice has been reported, including whether rice was identified from plant macroremains, phytoliths or impressions in ceramics. Ages are recorded as the start and end date of each phase, and a median age of the phase is then used for analysis. Dating is based on radiocarbon evidence (…)

Modelling framework

Our approach expands on previous efforts to model the geographical origins, and subsequent spread, of japonica rice (Silva et al., 2015). The methodology is based on the explicit modelling of dispersal hypotheses using the Fast Marching algorithm, which computes the cost-distance of an expanding front at each point of a discrete lattice or raster from the source(s) of diffusion (Sethian, 1996; Silva and Steele, 2012, 2014). Sites in the RAD database are then queried for their cost-distance, the distance from the source(s) of dispersal along the cost-surface that represents the hypothesis being modelled (see Connolly and Lake, 2006; Douglas, 1994; Silva et al., 2015; Silva and Steele, 2014 for more on this approach) and, together with the site’s dating, used for regression analysis. (…)

Predicted arrival times of the non-shattering rice variety (japonica or the hybrid indica) across southern Asia based on best-fitting model H2. Included are also sites with known presence of non-shattering spikelet bases (see text).

Model and results

The ‘Inner Asia Mountain Corridor’ hypothesis (H2) therefore predicts japonica rice to arrive first in northwest India via a route that starts in the Yellow river valley, travels west via the well-known Hexi corridor, then just south of the Inner Asian Mountains and thence to India.

The results also show that the addition of the Inner Asia Mountain Corridor significantly improves the model’s fit to the data, particularly model H2 where rice is introduced to the Indian subcontinent exclusively via a trade route that circumvents the Tibetan plateau. This agrees with independent archaeological evidence that sees millets spread westwards along this corridor perhaps as early as 3000 BC (e.g. Boivin et al., 2012; Kohler-Schneider and Canepelle, 2009; Rassamakin, 1999) and certainly by 2500–2000 BC (Frachetti et al., 2010; Spengler 2015; Stevens et al., 2016), that is, in the same time frame as that predicted for rice in model H2. The arrival of western livestock (sheep, cattle) into central China, 2500–2000 BC (Fuller et al., 2011; Yuan and Campbell, 2009), and wheat, ca. 2000 BC (Betts et al., 2014; Flad et al., 2010; Stevens et al., 2016; Zhao, 2015), add evidence for the role of the Inner Asia Mountain Corridor for domesticated species dispersal in this period.


Through a combination of explicit spatial modelling and simulation, we have demonstrated the high likelihood that dispersal of rice via traders in Central Asia introduced japonica rice into South Asia. Only slightly less likely is a combination of introduction via two routes including a Central Asia to Pakistan/northwestern India route as well as introduction to northeastern India directly from China/Myanmar. However, there is a very low probability that current archaeological evidence for rice fits with a single introduction of japonica into India via the northeast. We have also simulated the minimum amount of archaeobotanical sampling from the Neolithic (to Bronze Age) period in the regions of northeastern India and Myanmar that will be necessary to strengthen support for the combined introduction (model H3) or a single Central Asian introduction (model H2).


“Steppe people seem not to have penetrated South Asia”


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

Abstract (emphasis mine):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The origin of social complexity in the development of the Sintashta culture


Very interesting PhD thesis by Igor Chechushov, Bronze Age human communities in the Southern Urals steppe: Sintashta-Petrovka social and subsistence organization (2018).


Why and how exactly social complexity develops through time from small-scale groups to the level of large and complex institutions is an essential social science question. Through studying the Late Bronze Age Sintashta-Petrovka chiefdoms of the southern Urals (cal. 2050–1750 BC), this research aims to contribute to an understanding of variation in the organization of local communities in chiefdoms. It set out to document a segment of the Sintashta-Petrovka population not previously recognized in the archaeological record and learn about how this segment of the population related to the rest of the society. The Sintashta-Petrovka development provides a comparative case study of a pastoral society divided into sedentary and mobile segments.

Subsurface testing on the peripheries of three Sintashta-Petrovka communities suggests that a group of mobile herders lived outside the walls of the nucleated villages on a seasonal basis. During the summer, this group moved away from the village to pasture livestock farther off in the valley, and during the winter returned to shelter adjacent to the settlement. This finding illuminates the functioning of the year-round settlements as centers of production during the summer so as to provide for herd maintenance and breeding and winter shelter against harsh environmental conditions.

The question of why individuals chose in this context to form mutually dependent relationships with other families and thus give up some of their independence can be answered with a combination of two necessities: to remain a community in a newly settled ecological niche and to protect animals from environmental risk and theft. Those who were skillful at managing communal construction of walled villages and protecting people from military threats became the most prominent members of the society. These people formed the core of the chiefdoms but were not able to accumulate much wealth and other possessions. Instead, they acquired high social prestige that could even be transferred to their children. However, this set of relationships did not last longer than 300 years. Once occupation of the region was well established the need for functions served by elites disappeared, and centralized chiefly communities disintegrated into smaller unfortified villages.

Research area: map of the Sintashta-Petrovka archaeological sites. Settlements: 101 – Stepnoye; 102 – Shibaeyvo 1; 103 – Chernorechye 3; 104 – Bakhta; 105 – Paris; 106 – Isiney; 107 – Kuisak; 108 – Ust’ye; 109 – Rodniki; 110 – Konoplyanka; 111 – Zhurumbay; 112 – Arkaim; 113 – Sintashta; 114 – Sintashta 2; 115 – Kamennyi Ambar; 116 – Alandskoye; 117 – Chekatay; 118 – Selek; 119 – Sarym- Sakly; 120 – Kamysty; 121 – Kizilskoye; 122 – Bersuat; 123 – Andreyevskoe; 124 – Ulak; 125 – Streletskoye; 126 – Zarechnoye 4; 127 – Kamennyi Brod. Cemeteries: 201 – Ozernoye 1; 202 – Krivoe Ozero; 203 – Stepnoye M; 204 – Kamennyi Ambar-5; 205 – Stepnoye 1; 206 – Tsarev Kurgan; 207 – Ubagan 2; 208 – Solntse 2; 209 – Bolshekaraganskyi; 210 – Aleksandrovsky 4; 211 – Sintashta; 212 – Solonchanka 1a; 213 – Knyazhenskyi; 214 – Bestamak; 215 – Ishkinovka 1; 216 – Ishkinovka 2; 217 – Novo–Kumakskyi; 218 – Zhaman–Kargala 1; 219 – Tanabergen 2; 220 – Novo-Petrovka; 221 – Semiozernoye 2; 222 – Khalvayi 3

Some interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

The quintessential archaeological evidence of Sintashta-Petrovka communities takes the form of highly nucleated and fortified settlements paired with easily-recognized kurgan (burial mound) cemeteries. This pattern spread across Northern Central Eurasia in a relatively short period of about 300 years (cal. 2050–1750 BC), and the period consists of two chronological phases (Hanks et al. 2007). The earlier Sintashta phase (cal. 2050–1850 BC) is distinguished from the later Petrovka phase (cal. 1850–1750 BC) by some differences in ceramic styles and some techniques of bronze metallurgy (Degtyareva et al. 2001; Vinogradov 2013). Bronze Age subsistence patterns apparently relied on a wide variety of resources, among which meat and milk production played a major role (…). The most outstanding graves are individual male burials accompanied by weaponry (projectile weapons and chariots), the insignia of power (stone mace heads), craft tools, and a specific set of sacrificed animals (horses, cows, and dogs). (…) there were at least two adults buried with chariots and one with sacrificed horses (Epimakhov 1996b). Chariots – the most famous and spectacular material component of Sintashta-Petrovka society – are known exclusively from burial contexts. Two-wheeled vehicles represent complex technology, incorporating some crucial innovations and the investment of substantial resources. Highly developed craft and military skills were required for their production and use. Burials with chariots probably represent military elites who used them (Anthony 2009; Chechushkov 2011; Frachetti 2012:17) and played especially important social roles in Sintashta-Petrovka societies. This pattern strongly suggests that military leadership extended into the realm of ideology and general social prestige (Earle 2011:32–33).

The following sequence of archaeological cultures – based on the sample of radiocarbon dates (Epimakhov 2007a; 2010a), – is adopted: (1) the Sintashta-Petrovka phase 1 dated to cal. 2050–1750 BC and (2) the Srubnaya-Alakul’ phase 2 dated to cal. 1750–1350 BC.

(…) control of craft might have provided a source of power for elites in the fortified settlements (Steponaitis 1991). Some bronze tools, such as chisels, adzes, and handsaws seem more abundantly represented at some fortified settlements than at others, raising the possibility of a stronger focus on different craft products and some degree of exchange and interdependence between fortified settlements. (…) Zdanovich (1995:35) estimates 2500 people within the walls at Arkaim. He bases his conclusion an average house size of 140 m2 and the idea that Arkaim households consisted of an extended family of several generations, similar to Iroquois longhouse inhabitants. He also suggests that the entire population did not live in the “town” all the time, but moved around. The fully permanent residents were shamans, warriors, and craftsmen, i.e., elites and attached specialists.

Summarizing, excavated households represent very strongly similar architectural patterns, similar levels of wealth and prestige, little productive differentiation, and no evidence of elites amassing wealth through control of craft or subsistence production or any other mechanism (Earle 1987). These observations sharply contradict the burial record, where strong social differentiation is visible. The description above recalls the Regional Classic period elites of the Alto Magdalena whose standard of living differed little if at all from anyone else’s. Their elaborate tombs and sculptures suggest supernatural powers and ritual roles were much more important bases of their social prominence than economic control or accumulation of wealth (Drennan 1995:96–97). On the other hand, craft activities (especially metal production) are highly obvious in the Sintashta-Petrovka settlements. Defensive functions could also have played some role for the entire population. This benefit might attract people in an unstable or wild environment to spend much of their time in or near such settlements (Earle 2011:32–33). Since the construction of ditches and outer walls, as well as dwellings with shared walls, requires planning and organization, purposeful collective effort must have been a key feature of Sintashta-Petrovka communities (Vinogradov 2013; Zdanovich 1995). Sintashta-Petrovka communities thus evidence substantial investment of effort in non-subsistence activities, potentially resulting in a subsistence deficit in an economy with a heavy emphasis on herding. Altogether, this makes it plausible to think of the known Sintashta-Petrovka communities as special places where elites for whom military activities were important resided, and where metal production and possibly other crafts were carried out. It remains unclear just how a subsistence economy relying heavily on herding was managed from these substantial sedentary communities. Moving herds around the landscape seasonally is generally thought to be a part of subsistence strategy in Inner Eurasia (Frachetti 2008; Bachura 2013). In this area migration to exploit seasonal pastures is the best strategy for maintaining a regular supply of food for livestock due to shortages of capital or of labor pool to produce, harvest, and store fodder (Dyson-Hudson and Dyson-Hudson 1980:17). The recent stable isotope studies support this notion showing high likelihood that during the Bronze Age livestock was raised locally (Kiseleva et al. 2017).

The above raises the possibility that the residential remains that have been excavated within the fortifications of Sintashta-Petrovka communities represent only a portion of the population (Hanks and Doonan 2009, Johnson and Hanks 2012). It could be (along with the general lines suggested by D. Zdanovich [1997]) that the archaeological remains of the ordinary people who made up the majority of the population, built the impressive fortifications and stoked the subsistence economy have gone largely undetected. In global comparative perspective, many societies with the features known for Sintashta-Petrovka organization consisted of elite central-place settlements and hinterland populations. In such a scenario, the “missing” portion of the Sintashta population would reside in smaller unfortified settlements scattered around in the vicinity of the fortified ones.


In terms of wealth and productive differentiation, the inside assemblage of Kamennyi Ambar demonstrates a higher degree of richness and diversity in its material assemblage, leading to the conclusion that the outside materials may represent a semi-mobile group of people who used significantly less durable materials and accumulated less possessions. As for the diversity within the inside artifact assemblage, some households at Kamennyi Ambar demonstrate more diverse artifact assemblages than others, as well as bigger sizes, that could be related to differences in productive activities and/or wealth differentiation between families. A focus on specific objects of ceramic production in House 1 suggests some degree of productive specialization, while the elite goods in House 5 clearly point out the presence of elite members of the society.

There are two possible social scenarios that explain the settlement situation during the Sintashta-Petrovka phase. The first scenario considers all three communities as simultaneous and the second scenario suggests seeing the three sites as the same community that moved around the landscape during the Late Bronze Age in order to keep the pasture grounds from degradation.

Since no remains of permanent structures were found and any people living outside the walls must have stayed in temporary shelters. If this was the case, then the outside part of the population consisted of a semi-mobile group of people who moved to live near the fortified settlement during the winter. The pattern of animal slaughtering supports this conclusion. Animal teeth found near Kamennyi Ambar and Konoplyanka demonstrate a tendency for animal butchering during the fall, throughout the winter and spring, with less evidence of summer meat consumption. Moreover, since the Bronze Age subsistence strategy relied heavily on pastoralism, herds had to be grazed during the summer and kept safe during the winter. This strongly suggests that the part of the population responsible for management of animals spent their time in the summer pastures with the livestock. During the winter the animals had to be kept in the warm and safe environment of the walled settlements (as suggested by the highest level of phosphorus on the house floors) while the herders stayed in portable shelters in close to the walls.

(…) the outsiders used a less diverse set of tools, as well as less durable materials (for example, wooden instead of metal) in their everyday life and did not accumulate much in the way of archaeologically visible possessions. On the other hand, a few stone and lithic artifacts demonstrate that craft activities were carried out using cheap and abundant raw materials. The artefact assemblages also point out that the people inside accumulated wealth in the form of material belongings and luxury goods, especially, things like metal artifacts and symbolic or military-related stone artifacts, while people outside did not do that. However, the presence of semi-precious stones could signify some kind of wealth accumulation by the segment of population outside the walls. Since there are limits to our ability to assess social relationships from material remains, it is difficult to say if the people who lived outside the walls were oppressed or less respected. Their possible concentration on herding-related activities and livestock keeping might suggest less prestigious social status. The most prominent members of the society were, nonetheless, buried with the attributes of warriors or craft specialists, not those of shepherds, suggesting that those involved in livestock management had less social prestige.

Furthermore, Kuzmina (1994:72) cites linguistic studies demonstrating that the Sanskrit word for a permanent village earlier meant a circle of mobile wagon homes, situated together for defensive purposes for an overnight camp (Kuzmina 1994:72).

The likely population of semi-mobile herders represented some 30%–60% of the entire local community, while the other of 40%–70% were inhabitants of the walled settlement. The almost completely excavated kurgan cemetery of Kamennyi Ambar-5 (only two kurgans remain unstudied) yielded about 100 individuals, or about 2%–5% of the total of 4,896±1,960 individuals in four generations who lived at the nearby settlement for 100 years. In other words, no more than 10% of the population was entitled to be buried under the kurgan mound and this proportion can be taken as an estimate of those with elevated social status. Perhaps, these elites were kin, since analysis of the burial patterns suggests sex/age rather than wealth/prestige differentiation between buried individuals within this elite group (Epimakhov and Berseneva 2011; Ventresca Miller 2013). The remaining non-elite members of the permanently resident community, then, represented some 30%–60% of the complete local community, but did not show evidence of standards of living particularly lower than the elites eventually interred in the kurgan.

(…) The buried population in the Sintashta Cemetery is about 80 individuals or only about 2%–3% of the total estimated population. However, these few individuals were buried with extremely rich offerings, like complete chariots, decorations made of precious metals or sacrifices of six horses (equal to about 900 kg of meat), etc. With such a low proportion of the population assigned such high prestige, the Sintashta local community can easily be labeled a local chiefdom. In Pitman and Doonan’s view (2018) the social structure of the chifedom consisted of a chief and his kin at the highest level; warriors, religious specialists, and craftsmen in the middle; and the pastoral community at the bottom level.


In the Bronze Age, the people who comprised the majority of the permanent population were involved in craft activities, including extraction of copper ores, metallurgy, bone, leather, and woodwork. The most important and labor-intensive part of the economy, however, was haymaking. The evidence of hay found in the cultural layer near Kamennyi Ambar supports the idea that animals were fed during the winter. Nowadays, hay cutting is typically done in July-August, the period of most intensive grazing for animals. Thus, the part of the collective that remained in the settlement had to provide the labor force for haymaking.

In the wintertime, the herders returned to the settlements with the herds, and animals were kept inside the walls––a practice which is known archaeologically (Zakh 1995) and ethnographically (Shahack-Gross et al. 2004)––while herders stayed outside in their tents.

In sum, the Sintashta-Petrovka chiefdoms demonstrate a three-part social order. In Kuzmina’s (1994) view, this is similar to the Varna system of ancient India, that consisted of priests (Sansk. Brahmanis), rulers and warriors (Sansk. Kshatriyas), free producers (Sansk. Vaishyas) and laborers and service providers (Sansk. Shudras). In the Sintashta-Petrovka chiefdom, the elite 2%–5% of the population would have consisted of priests and warriors; 48%–55% would have been dependent producers; and 50%–60% would have been herders of lower social rank.

The map of the Bronze Age sites in the Karagaily-Ayat Valley Sites of Phase 1: 101 – Konoplyanka; 102 – Zhurumbay; 103 – Kamennyi Ambar; 104 – Kamennyi Ambar-5 Sites of Phase 2: 201 – Konoplyanka 1; 202 – Varshavskoye-1; 203 – Zhurumbay-1; 204 – Varshavskoye-3; 205 – Varshavskoye-5; 206 – Varshavskoye-9; 207 – Kamennyi Ambar-8; 208 – Kamennyi Ambar; 209 – Elizavetpolskoye-3; 210 – Elizavetpolskoye-2; 211 – Karagayli-26; 212 – Elizavetpolskoye-7; 213 – Elizavetpolskoye- 9; 214 – Yuzhno-Stepnoyi (1); 215 – Yuzhno-Stepnoyi (2)


In the case of the Sintashta-Petrovka chiefdoms, the questions of why and how exactly social complexity developed through time and why individuals choose to integrate and give up their independence can be answered as some combination of two necessities: to persist as a larger community in the ecological niche of the newly settled region, and to protect herds from theft.

There is general agreement among researchers that the Sintashta phenomenon had no local roots and originated with a large-scale migration of pastoral communities from Eastern Europe to the marginal area of the Southern Urals. This process forced families to stay together and fueled the necessity in the walled villages for ensuring the reproduction of herds in the extreme climatic conditions of the southern Urals that are colder and dryer than the eastern Black Sea region from which the Sintashta populations are thought to have migrated (Kuzmina 1994, 2007; Anthony 2007; Vinogradov 2011, etc.). At the same time, the herds needed protection from animal and human predators. Probably, the risk of losing animals was a threat to survival that created tensions between neighboring communities, and the Neolithic hunter-gatherers who had populated the Urals before the arrival of Sintashta people could have hunted the domestic animals. Apparently, those who were talented in managing the construction of closely-packed villages surrounded by ditches and walls to protect people and livestock from threats from neighbors, and who otherwise served the community in the newly colonized zone became the most prominent members of society. Theses people formed the core of the Sintashta-Petrovka chiefdom but were not able to accumulate much personal wealth in the form of material possessions. Instead, they acquired high social prestige that could even be transferred to their children (since up to 65% of the buried elite population consists of infants [Razhev and Epimakhov 2005). In this sense, the Sintashta-Petrovka elites were simmilar to their counterparts in the Alto Magdalena of Colombia (Drennan 1995; Gonzalez Fernandez 2007; Drennan and Peterson 2008).

However, this situation did not last longer than 300 years, since after the initial phase of colonization of the Southern Urals was over, the need for social services provided by an elite disappeared and centralized chiefly communities disintegrated into the smaller unfortified villages of the Srubnaya-Alakul’ period.

As I have said many times already (see e.g. here) the outsider pastoralists, forming originally the vast majority of the population, were most likely Pre-Proto-Indo-Iranian speakers of haplogroup R1b-Z2103, and their elite groups (whose inheritance system was based on kinship) probably incorporated gradually Uralic-speaking families of haplogroup R1a-Z93, whose relative importance increased gradually, and then eventually expanded massively with the migrations of Andronovo and Srubna, creating a second Y-chromosome bottleneck that favoured again Z93 subclades. The adaptation of Pre-Proto-Indo-Iranian to the Uralic pronunciation, and the adoption of PII vocabulary in neighbouring Proto-Finno-Ugric bear witness to this process.


Yamna female shows decoration of bones after body decomposition

Interesting press release from the Institute of Archaeology at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań:

In an open access report last year, Anthropological Description of Skeletal Material from the Dniester Barrow-cemetery Complex, Yampil Region, Vinnitsa Oblast (Ukraine), the team lead by Liudmyla Litvinova – of the Ukrainian Academy of Science – published their findings from the skeletons in different burial mounds along the border with Moldavia, ranging from Eneolithic to Iron Age burials.

Map of Yampil barrows, showing administrative borders: 1 – Klembivka barrow 1; 2 – Porohy, barrow 3A; 3 – Pidlisivka, barrow 1; 4 – Prydnistryanske, barrows 1-4; 5 – barrows; 6 – excavated barrows; 7 – Ukrainian-Moldovan frontier; 8 – Yampil Region border

In one Yamnaya burial rested a young woman aged 25-30. It was so described in the original paper:

Barrow 3A, feature 10. A very poorly-preserved skeleton with a badly damaged skull. The preserved bones include small fragments of the cranial vault and mandible and larger ones of the upper and lower limbs, pelvis fragments and vertebrae. The skeleton belonged to a female aged 25-30 years (adultus). Due to the poor state of preservation of long bones, it was not possible to reconstruct her stature. Palaeopathological lesions: LEH on both lower canines (age of the individual at the time of both defects: 4.5-5.0 years); caries on the upper left third molar.

Burial and reconstruction. Foto by Michał Podsiadło.

This is what the team has discovered since then:

While drawing and photographing the burial, our attention was drawn to regular patterns, such as parallel lines visible on both elbow bones. At first, we approached the discovery with caution – maybe the traces were left by animals, we wondered

– Says Danuta Żurkiewicz from the Institute of Archaeology, Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, who prepared an article on the decorations.

It is surprising that the procedure of decorating the bones had to be done after death and the process of body decomposition. This is clearly indicated by the location of the decoration on the bone surface and the way dye was applied.

Detail of the forearm, from Żurkiewicz. Modified by me, I added rectangles around the marks on the distal end and middle third of the cubitus. You can see the marks on the cubitus with more detail in the original article.

Some time after the woman’s death the grave was reopened, bone decoration was performed and the bones were re-arranged in anatomical order.

According to Żurkiewicz, this discovery is unique – so far, no comparable custom among other prehistoric communities in Europe has been recorded.

Until now, the few similar discoveries have been interpreted as remnants of tattoos, but none of them have been analysed using so many modern methods, which is why they can not be confirmed with full confidence

Żurkiewicz believes that:

However, women were rarely buried in them. The deceased, whose bones were covered with patterns, had to be an important member of the community.

These findings will be detailed in volume 22 of Baltic-Pontic Studies, which will be available online on the De Gruyter Open platform in August.

My opinion – without knowing anything about the case, site, or archaeology of kurgans in general, just from my knowledge in Orthopaedic Surgery – is that it would be quite easy to make those marks on the cubitus post-mortem, because the cubitus has a very easy surgical access (just under the skin, mostly). On the other hand, opening the grave after decomposition to take the bone, make those marks, and put it back, seems too much work to achieve the same result…

If the marks had been on another anatomical site (say, the anterior aspect of the sacrum, or the inner aspect of the cranium, etc.) maybe the butchery needed to mark the bones would not be worth it (especially for a relative of the deceased), but in this case I hope they have a good reason to support why it must have been made after decomposition.

EDIT (4 AUG 2018): The published paper on this specific burial and the marks: Ritual position and “tattooing” techniques in the funeral practices of the “Barrow cultures” of the Pontic-Caspian steppe/forest-steppe area Porohy 3A, Yampil region, Vinnytsia Oblast: Specialist analysis research perspectives, by Żurkiewicz et al. (2018).

See also on the same region Eneolithic, Yamnaya and Noua culture cemeteries from the first half of the 3rd and the middle of the 2nd millennium BC, Porogy, site 3A, Yampil region, Vinnitsa oblast: Archaeometric and Chronometric Description, Ritual and Tazonomic-Topogenetic identification, by Viktor Klochko et al. (2015), B-P S, vol. 20, P. 78-141.


Human sacrifice as means of social control and power display in Upper Mesopotamia (early 3rd mill. BC)


Radical ‘royals’? Burial practices at Başur Höyük and the emergence of early states in Mesopotamia, by Hasset and Sağlamtimur, Antiquity (2018) 92:640-654.

Interesting excerpts:

The discovery of sacrificial burials attending a ‘royal’ burial in a cist tomb at Early Bronze Age Arslantepe in Anatolia (Frangipane 2006; Erdal 2012) has dramatically broadened the known range of social responses to the political upheaval of the early third millennium BC. Following the longstanding interpretation of human sacrifice at the Royal Cemetery of Ur just a few hundred years later (Woolley 1934), this raises new questions about the role of human sacrifice in processes of early state formation (Sürenhagen 2002; Croucher 2012). Power over the physical bodies of a population to the point of death has been associated with the hierarchical social structures that accompanied early state-formation processes across the globe (Watts et al. 2016). There is, however, considerable variation in the practice. Sacrifice can be employed variously to achieve spiritual, ritual, political, martial or even economic ends (see Bremmer 2007; Turchin 2016), and the role of human sacrifice in ancient Near Eastern burial practices remains unclear (Porter & Schwartz 2012).

“The mound site of Ba¸sur Höyük, with the archaeological plan of the Early Bronze Age cemetery. Graves are outlined in red, Uruk-period architecture in black. Each grid square is 10 × 10m.”

Wengrow draws an interesting distinction between “sacrificial” and “archival” ritual economies, using metal finds from the much wider context of the Eurasian Bronze Age (Wengrow 2011: 137). For Wengrow, the ‘sacrificial’ deposit of metal work, particularly in burial contexts, indicates a system of metal exchange that is most frequently found on the edges of more complex, centrally administrated urban exchange systems. Metalwork serves here to consolidate and display personal wealth rather than as a standardised commodity for equitable exchange. Wilkinson has highlighted the role of shifting economic modes in marking social change, observing such a transition in ritual-economic systems in the Early Bronze Age Trans-Caucasian sphere of influence that stretched from Anatolia to Iran (Wilkinson 2014). The bronze objects buried at Başur Höyük fall into a pattern of ritual deposits that clearly mark Early Bronze Age funerary rituals as locations for the communication of wealth and status (Săglamtimur & Massimino 2015). The importance of that display is not diminished by the presence of administrative artefacts such as the cylinder seals and ceramics marked with seal impressions that were also found inside the cist tomb. The material culture of the Early Bronze Age cemetery at Başur Höyük demonstrates connections to the Anatolian world, with clear Trans-Caucasian links similar to those found along the Euphrates, and also to the southern, urban networks of the Mesopotamian core.

The utility of such sacrificial gestures waned as other means of social control and power display were brought to bear by an administrated, ‘archival’ economy that did not require the sacrifice of its human subjects.(…) In the vacuum of political centralisation that followed the withdrawal of Uruk material culture in the Mesopotamian sphere, we see precisely the instability among smaller polities that would be expected to underlie the introduction of human sacrifice. In the vast administrative state systems that rose up in southern Mesopotamia in the next millennium, it disappears again from the archaeological record and it is not unreasonable to see in this pattern an implication for the value and economy of human life during the formation of early states.

Ebla’ first kingdom at its height c. 2340 BC. Hipothetical location of Armi depicted. The first Eblaite kingdom extended from Urshu in the north,1 to Damascus area in the south.2 And from Phoenicia and the coastal mountains in the west,3 4 to Tuttul,5 and Haddu in the east.6 The eastern kingdom of Nagar controlled most of the Khabur basin from the river junction with the Euphrates to the northwestern part at Nabada.7 Page 101. From Wikipedia.

Given the potential Anatolian names in Armi inscriptions (ca. 2500-2300 BC), this crucial period of political upheaval after the fall of Uruk-period Mesopotamian interregional networks and before the rise of new state system, i.e. in the early third millennium BC, is probably to be identified with the arrival of Anatolian speakers from the west.

Similar to the Early Indo-Aryan elites ruling over Hurrian-speaking Mitanni, it is possible that some Anatolian-speaking groups imposed their rule as elites (and thus their language) after this period of instability – at least in certain regions, as is obvious from the multilingualism and multiethnic situation found in the Old Assyrian tablets of Kaneš.


Origins of equine dentistry in Mongolia in the early first millennium BC

New paper (behind paywall) Origins of equine dentistry, by Taylor et al. PNAS (2018).

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

The practice of horse dentistry by contemporary nomadic peoples in Mongolia, coupled with the centrality of horse transport to Mongolian life, both now and in antiquity, raises the possibility that dental care played an important role in the development of nomadic life and domestic horse use in the past. To investigate, we conducted a detailed archaeozoological study of horse remains from tombs and ritual horse inhumations across the Mongolian Steppe, assessing evidence for anthropogenic dental modifications and comparing our findings with broader patterns in horse use and nomadic material culture.

We conducted a detailed study of archaeological horse collections spanning the past 3,200 y, including those from the Late Bronze Age DSK complex (ca. 1200–700 BCE, n = 70), Early Iron Age Slab Burial culture (ca. 700–300 BCE, n = 4), Pazyryk culture (ca. 600–200 BCE, n = 2), Late Iron Age Xiongnu Empire (ca. 200 BCE–200 CE, n = 3), Early Middle Ages post-Xiongnu period (ca. 100–550 CE, n = 3), and Turkic Khaganate (ca. 600–800 CE, n = 3).

A (top): Contemporary Mongolian herder engaged in horseback riding, using left-handed rein position causing asymmetric pressures to the horse’s skull. Photo by Orsoo Bayarsaikhan. B(center) contemporary Mongolian horse skulls, showing asymmetric and skewed thinning to the nasal bones caused by bridle pressure. C(bottom) Asymmetric deformation to the cranial bones of a Deer Stone-Khirigsuur horse (left), alongside an early Middle Ages horse with a similar feature (right). Modified from Taylor and Tuvshinjargal (2018).


This Late Bronze Age dental modification counts among the earliest documented instances of equine veterinary care, and the oldest known evidence for horse dentistry. At first glance, the detailed historical record of early equine veterinary care in places such as China, Greece, Rome, and Syria, which spans the late second millennium BCE through the early centuries CE (11, 15, 16), might imply that equine dentistry emerged in the sedentary civilizations of the Old World. However, the earliest textual references describe only nonsurgical medicinal treatments and make few mentions of oral health (11). Recent archaeological discoveries suggest that human care of domestic animals was practiced by hunter-gatherers as far back as the Paleolithic (46), and that pastoralists may have occasionally practiced surgical procedures on domestic animals as early as the Neolithic in Europe (47). The evidence presented here indicates that horse dentistry was developed by nomadic pastoralists living on the steppes of Mongolia and northeast Asia during the Late Bronze Age, concurrent with the local adoption of the metal bit and many centuries before the first mention of dental practices in historical accounts from sedentary Old World civilizations.

Our results reveal a fundamental link between equine dentistry and the emergence of horsemanship in the steppes of Eurasia. At the turn of the first millennium BCE, militarized, horse-mounted peoples reshaped the social and economic landscape of many areas of the Eurasian continent. Conflagrations with equestrian peoples, such as those between the Persian Empire and the Pontic “Scythians,” plagued alluvial civilizations from the Near East to India and China, while large-scale movements of people linked East and West in never-before-seen ways (48). The archaeological and historical records indicate that the earliest horseback riding was accomplished without stirrups or saddles, and probably using only bitless or organic-mouthpiece bridles (49, 50). The bronze snaffle bit, and the improved control it provided, was a key technological development that enabled the use of horseback riding for more stressful and difficult activities, such as long-distance transportation and warfare (32). We argue that these technological improvements in horse control were preceded and sustained by innovations in veterinary dentistry by nomadic peoples living in the continental interior. By increasing herd survival and mitigating behavioral and health issues caused by horse equipment, innovations in equine dentistry improved the reliability of horseback riding for ancient nomads, enabling horses to be used for nonpastoral activities like warfare, high-speed riding, and distance travel.

Damage to the retained wolf tooth in a 4-5 year old mummified horse, dating to the 2-4th centuries CE from the site of Urd Ulaan-Uneet in western Mongolia


Archaeozoological data from Mongolian horses indicate that the nomadic practice of equine dentistry dates back more than 3,000 y to the DSK complex, a Late Bronze Age culture associated with the first mounted horseback riding and mobile pastoralism in eastern Eurasia. Attempted removal of deciduous incisors through sawing of the exterior suggests experimentation with dental extraction, but not the removal of wolf teeth. The appearance of extracted first premolars in the first millennium BCE coincides with the arrival of metal bits in the archaeological record and oral trauma linked with metal bit use, suggesting that innovations in dental practice were an adaptation to the mechanical changes in horse equipment. These bronze and metal bits provided greater control over the horse, facilitating the development of military uses for the horse, but also introduced new dental problems with the first premolar. Our results indicate that, coincident with the earliest evidence for metal bit use, wolf tooth extraction was practiced in Mongolia by ca. 750 BCE and continued through the early Middle Ages. These results push back the earliest dates for equine dentistry by more than a millennium and suggest that nomadic peoples developed key innovations in veterinary care that enabled more sophisticated horse control, ultimately changing the structure of communication, exchange, and military power in ancient Eurasia.


The end of the Kura-Araxes settlements: large-scale phenomenon but with varied causes


Open access The End of the Kura-Araxes Culture as Seen from Nadir Tepesi in Iranian Azerbaijan, by Alizadeh, Maziar & Mohammadi, American Journal of Archaeology (2018) 122(3):463-477.

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

The test trenches at Nadir Tepesi suggest that the Kura-Araxes occupation ended abruptly in the mid third millennium B.C.E. and that the site was then occupied or visited by a new group of people with new cultural traditions. Evidence for a significant destruction followed by the sharp discontinuity in the material culture could represent a violent termination of the Kura-Araxes occupation at Nadir Tepesi. This possibility provides one hypothesis for the end of the Kura-Araxes culture elsewhere as well in the Mughan Steppe.

It appears that there is no subsequent substantial built settlement until possibly the Late Iron Age in the region. Our intensive and extensive surveys on the Mughan Steppe did not provide evidence for settlements until long after the Kura-Araxes time. For whatever reason, settlements on the Mughan Steppe seem to have reappeared only in the Iron Age and remained sparse until the Sassanian period in late antiquity.45 Although some ceramics with parallels in the Middle and Late Bronze Age and the Iron Age were found at a few sites, they do not seem to represent settlements.

Major Kura-Araxes sites in the Caucasus region and location of Nadir Tepesi (modified from Bourrichon/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0/GFDL).

Indeed, except for the sites that may possibly contain burials, we do not know much about the Middle and Late Bronze Ages through the Iron Age in the Mughan Steppe. Similarly, archaeological investigations in the southern Caucasus do not provide information on settlements in the Middle Bronze Age.46 From a broad perspective, the abrupt and possibly violent end to the Kura-Araxes occupation at Nadir Tepesi, together with the sudden disappearance of the Kura-Araxes settlements and the scarcity of post–Kura-Araxes sites in the Mughan Steppe,47 may indicate that these changes were part of a larger phenomenon. This evidence could suggest a major sociocultural and demographic transformation at a regional level, at least in the western Caspian littoral plain, in the middle of the third millennium B.C.E. Other archaeological investigations in the southern Caucasus portray a similar picture, that of newcomers with a significantly different lifestyle and means of subsistence possibly associated with a mobile economy. Except in some elements of the ceramic traditions, evidence of continuity of Kura-Araxes traditions and their coexistence with newcomers is scarce and uncertain.48

On one hand, Puturidze argues that there is no evidence supporting the notion of a migration of people into the southern Caucasus.50 Rather, she associates all the changes in the post–Kura-Araxes period with influences from Near Eastern societies as a result of developing interactions by the end of the third millennium B.C.E. On the other hand, Kohl hypothesizes the possibility of a “push-pull process”51 in which new groups of people with wheeled carts and oxen-pulled wagons gradually moved from the steppes of the north into the southern Caucasus, and the Kura-Araxes communities subsequently moved farther south.52.

Early Chalcolithic migrations (3100-2600 BC)

Kohl also reminds us of the evidence of increased militarism from the Early to the Late Bronze Age that is reflected in more fortified sites, new weaponry, and an iconography of war as seen on the Karashamb Cup.53 The appearance of defensive mechanisms such as fortification walls, which can be seen at Köhne Shahar, a Kura-Araxes settlement near Chaldran in Iranian Azerbaijan, further emphasizes the increase of intergroup conflicts and militarism during the Early Bronze Age, before the Kura-Araxes culture came to an end.54 Kohl argues that, while the number of Kura-Araxes settlements decreased in the southern Caucasus, archaeological research indicates that the Kura-Araxes culture spread to western Iran in the Zagros region and to the Levant.55 In Kohl’s view, as new groups of people moved in, the Kura-Araxes communities abandoned the southern Caucasus and moved farther south, where some of them already resided. Although some scholars suggest the possible movement of new groups of people from the northern steppes to the southern Caucasus,56 others associate the cultures of the post–Kura-Araxes period, especially the Trialeti.

We believe that the evidence supports a less uniform scenario. The Kura-Araxes culture may have disappeared in various ways; the transition to the post–Kura-Araxes time may not be explained by a single model. Different Kura-Araxes settlements may have ended differently. The evidence from Nadir Tepesi could support a violent end at that site, and it is possible that similar evidence will be found at other sites in the Mughan Steppe. At some sites, such as Köhne Tepesi in the Khoda Afarin Plain,58 the Kura-Araxes occupation also ended abruptly but without any sign of destruction. In other regions, there may be evidence supporting the coexistence of newcomers with Kura-Araxes communities for some period.59 The results from Gegharot60 in Armenia and recent excavations by one of the authors of this report at Köhne Shahar, do not support any of these models. At Köhne Shahar, the Kura-Araxes culture ended around the middle of the third millennium B.C.E.61 In the last phase of Kura-Araxes occupation at the site, six storage jars in one of the workshop units stood intact, five of them still carefully covered by stone slabs. The evidence from Köhne Shahar may point to a nonviolent end or a planned abandonment of the site.62

Late Chalcolithic migrations (2600-2250 BC)

The picture continues to be somehow blurred for what happened in the Caucasus and North Iran after the Late Indo-European expansions, due to contradictory information.

With the analysis of the dataset from Narasimhan et al. (2018), it seemed that steppe peoples might have migrated into North Iran after the first Khvalynsk/Repin or Early Yamna expansions, because some samples from North Iran were reported to have steppe-related admixture.

NOTE. As I already said, the Hajji Firuz sample of R1b-Z2103 subclade (of uncertain date) clusters closer to the Iron Age sample F38 from Iran (Broushaki et al. 2016), of the same subclade, which is quite likely related to Proto-Armenian speakers, so it is possible that both belong to the same, Late Bronze Age / Iron Age group of migrants.

The other possibility, since it also clusters at a certain distance from the Hajji Firuz I4243 ‘outlier’, dated ca. 2326 BC (from the same archaeological site as other Chalcolithic samples, but being an intrusive Bronze Age burial), is that the Hajji Firuz sample is related to these hypothetical early migrations described here; or, that its date of I4243 is also not reliable…

These initial reports, coupled with archaeological descriptions of potential migrants from the steppe ending the Kura-Araxes culture, may suggest that peoples of steppe origin (or peoples with steppe admixture from the Caucasus) occupied territories further to the south (see here for potential early migration waves).

However, studies of samples from the Caucasus in Wang et al. (2018) have shown that no migrations related to EHG ancestry happened to the south, and that the minimal EHG/WHG contribution in Kura-Araxes individuals is probably part of the Anatolian farmer-related ancestry, and not from the steppe.

In fact, further contribution from Iran Chalcolithic-related ancestry was found intruding to the north during the Early Bronze Age, into Kura-Araxes and Maykop-Novosvobodnaya samples. In the Middle Bronze Age, some peoples from the North Caucasus show steppe ancestry (further to the south than the first steppe ancestry incursions of the North Caucasus piedmont), but most late Caucasus groups studied retain the ‘southern’ Armenian/Iran Chalcolithic profile.

Early Bronze Age migrations (2600-2250 BC)

All this casts doubts on the whole idea of intrusive steppe ancestry found in Iran Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age (or, alternatively, on the proper dates of the Hajji Firuz ‘outliers’).

Also, the archaeological discontinuity in the region until the Iron Age, and the close relationship of Armenian to Greek (relative to other Palaeo-Balkan languages, which seem to have expanded to the south-west with Yamna settlers), does not support these hypothetical early steppe migrants as the Proto-Armenian community; earlier migrations of LPIE speakers without known modern descendants are obviously possible, but no clear archaeological or linguistic link has been offered to date to support this.

Until we have more samples with a clear archaeological and chronological context from Anatolia, Iran, and the Armenian Highlands during the Bronze and Iron Ages, and until they show clear steppe ancestry assessed in peer-reviewed papers (or at least thoroughly contrasted with other potential sources of such ancestry, and with solid statistical results), the question of intrusive steppe ancestry, and thus maybe LPIE-speakers (which may or may not be associated with Proto-Armenians) remains open.

NOTE. The Armenian question remains open, not because genetics has precedence over linguistics, but because the linguistic classification and date of separation, in this case, is not clear, and may be quite old. The fact that Palaeo-Balkan and Pre-Indo-Iranian might have separated quite early within the Khvalynsk – Volga-Ural (Early Yamna) community adds to the difficulty in assessing migration routes, although I do believe that the close similarity of Armenian with Greek among Palaeo-Balkan languages do not warrant such an early separation, and the Middle to Late Bronze Age period in the Balkans and Anatolia offers a better route for this expansion.

See also