Viking Age town shows higher genetic diversity than Neolithic and Bronze Age


Open access Genomic and Strontium Isotope Variation Reveal Immigration Patterns in a Viking Age Town, by Krzewińska et al., Current Biology (2018).

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine, some references deleted for clarity):

The town of Sigtuna in eastern central Sweden was one of the pioneer urban hubs in the vast and complex communicative network of the Viking world. The town that is thought to have been royally founded was planned and organized as a formal administrative center and was an important focal point for the establishment of Christianity [19]. The material culture in Sigtuna indicates that the town had intense international contacts and hosted several cemeteries with a Christian character. Some of them may have been used by kin-based groups or by people sharing the same sociocultural background. In order to explore the character and magnitude of mobility and migration in a late Viking Age town, we generated and analyzed genomic (n = 23) and strontium isotope (n = 31) data from individuals excavated in Sigtuna.


The mitochondrial genomes were sequenced at 1.5× to 367× coverage. Most of the individuals were assigned to haplogroups commonly found in current-day Europeans, such as H, J, and U [14, 26, 27]. All of these haplotypes are present in Scandinavia today.

The Y chromosome haplogroups were assigned in seven males. The Y haplogroups include I1a, I2a, N1a, G2a, and R1b. Two identified lineages (I2a and N1a) have not been found in modern-day Sweden or Norway [28, 29]. Haplogroups I and N are associated with eastern and central Europe, as well as Finno-Ugric groups [30]. Interestingly, I2a was previously identified in a middle Neolithic Swedish hunter-gatherer dating to ca. 3,000 years BCE [31].

In Sigtuna, the genetic diversity in the late Viking Age was greater than the genetic diversity in late Neolithic and Bronze Age cultures (Unetice and Yamnaya as examples) and modern East Asians; it was on par with Roman soldiers in England but lower than in modern-day European groups (GBR and FIN; Figure 2B). Within the town, the group excavated at church 1 has somewhat greater diversity than that at cemetery 1. Interestingly, the diversity at church 1 is nearly as high as that observed in Roman soldiers in England, which is remarkable, since the latter was considered to be an exceptionally heterogeneous group in contemporary Europe [39].

A PCA plot visualising all 23 individuals from Sigtuna used in ancient DNA analyses (m – males, f – females).

Different sex-related mobility patterns for Sigtuna inhabitants have been suggested based on material culture, especially ceramics. Building on design and clay analyses, some female potters in Sigtuna are thought to have grown up in Novgorod in Rus’ [40]. Moreover, historical sources mention female mobility in connection to marriage, especially among the elite from Rus’ and West Slavonic regions [41, 42]. Male mobility is also known from historical sources, often in connection to clergymen moving to the town [43].

Interestingly, we found a number of individuals from Sigtuna to be genetically similar to the modern-day human variation of eastern Europeans, and most harbor close genetic affinities to Lithuanians (Figure 2A). The strontium isotope ratios in 28 adult individuals with assigned biological sex and strontium values obtained from teeth (23 M1 and five M2) show that 70% of the females and 44% of the males from Sigtuna were non-locals (STAR Methods). The difference in migrant ratios between females and male mobility patterns was not statistically significant (Fisher’s exact test, p = 0.254 for 28 individuals and p = 0.376 for 16 individuals). Hence, no evidence of a sex-specific mobility pattern was found.

(…) As these social groups are not mirrored by our genetic or strontium data, this suggests that the inclusion in them was not based on kinship. Therefore, it appears as if socio-cultural factors, not biological bonds, governed where people were interred (i.e., the choice of cemetery).

Average pairwise genetic diversity measured in complete Sigtuna, St. Gertrud (church 1) and cemetery 1 (the Nunnan block) compared to both ancient and modern populations ranked by time period (Yamnaya, Unetice, and GBR-Roman, Roman Age individuals from Great Britain; GBR-AS, Anglo-Saxon individuals from Great Britain; GBR-IA, Iron Age individuals from Great Britain; JPT-Modern, presentday Japanese from Tokyo; FIN-Modern, present-day Finnish; GBR-Modern, present-day British; GIHModern, present-day Gujarati Indian from Houston, Texas). Error bars show ±2 SEs.

Interesting from this paper is the higher genetic (especially Y-DNA) diversity found in more recent periods (see e.g. here) compared to Neolithic and Bronze Age cultures, which is probably the reason behind some obviously wrong interpretations, e.g. regarding links between Yamna and Corded Ware populations.

The sample 84001, a “first-generation short-distance migrant” of haplogroup N1c-L392 (N1a in the new nomenclature) brings yet more proof of how:

  • Admixture changes completely within a certain number of generations. In this case, the N1c-L392 sample clusters within the genetic variation of modern Norwegians, near to the Skane Iron Age sample, and not with its eastern origin (likely many generations before).
  • This haplogroup appeared quite late in Fennoscandia but still managed to integrate and expand into different ethnolinguistic groups; in this case, this individual was probably a Viking of Nordic language, given its genetic admixture and its non-local (but neighbouring Scandinavian) strontium values.


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.


Kurgan origins and expansion with Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka chieftains


The concept of ‘Kurgan peoples’ is a general idea whereby ‘kurgan builders’ are identified with Indo-European speakers. It is a consequence of the oversimplification of Gimbutas’ theory, and is still widespread among linguists, archaeologists, geneticists, and amateurs alike.

NOTE. On the already simplistic assumptions of Gimbutas regarding the so-called ‘kurgan’ burials, see e.g. Häusler’s early criticism.

However, as more ancient DNA studies appear, many ancient cultures once held as ‘kurganized’ are becoming more and more clearly disconnected from Proto-Indo-Europeans: So for example Varna, Cucuteni-Trypillia, Maykop, or Northern Iranian kurgan builders.

The first marked burials

In his chapter Aspects of Pontic Steppe Development (4550-3000 BC), Ukrainian researcher Yuri Rassamakin makes some interesting remarks.

NOTE. As you may know, Rassamakin supports a ‘Skelyan’ (macro-)culture encompassing every group from the North Pontic steppe and steppe-forest, where (therefore) Novodanilovka or Suvorovo would be just rich elites among Sredni Stog and related ‘commoners’. So he can hardly be described as interested in supporting Khvalynsk over Sredni Stog influence…

The first period of development (ca. 4550 – 4100/4000 BC) is marked as a period of emergence of the first burial symbols.

Gimbutas – like later her pupil Mallory -, Merpert, or Danilenko believed that the first mark of emerging kurgans were precisely the presence of constructions above burials, such as simple, small, stone henges, dolmens, cists, or cairns. Hence the traditional connection of ‘kurgans’ with Sredni Stog. This Sredni Stog connection is currently still a widespread belief, that is kept alive because it appears in many secondary sources (e.g. the much beloved as it is outdated and simplistic reference book Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture).

These first constructions described as from Sredni Stog were nevertheless found solely among Sredni Stog ‘elites’. That is, burials from Novodanlilovka-type cultural sites. So, following the initial assessments of this culture by Soviet archaeologists (like Telegin), for Gimbutas (1956) they were among ‘Sredni Stog’ burials, and for Merpert (1959) they might have been due to an “initial, genetic basis” originally from Khvalynsk, and thus (what was described as) Sredni Stog seemed to have been formed under “strong eastern influences”.

NOTE. From Rassamakin’s own account: Gimbutas’ model was later corrected, when in the mid-1980s Telegin judged that the cemeteries in fact represented an independent cultural type (Novodanilovka-type sites), developing over two stages (Telegin 1985a, 311-20; 1991). These were the same burials which Danilenko thought reflected a distinct pastoralist culture among the early Yamnaya tribes, which Gimbutas attributed to the first kurgan wave, and which Merpert, in part, ascribed to the first chronological period of the early Yamnaya culture-historical province.

The classification of megalithic monuments of the Pantie steppe. (After Dovzhenko 1993, fig. 1 with changes by the author.)

These early constructions, however, are not found anywhere else in the North Pontic region except for those ‘Sredni Stog elites’:

  • Rooves made from separate slabs with cairns are known in the Dnieper and Volga regions: In the Khvalynsk I culture, 17% of burials were superimposed with stone cairns or had a single stone marker.
  • Cists with cairns are known from Severskii Donets and Azov areas.
  • A unique cromlech is described from the Dniester-Danube area (Suvorovo).
  • In the remaining cases, especially for the Volga area and pre-Caucasus steppe, there are some specific variants:
    1. Use of natural hills as a burial marker
    2. Presence of smalll earthen or wooden constructions.

If we accept that these constructions are the first rudimentary kurgans or proto-kurgans, and that kurgans were a mark of expanding Indo-European culture, let’s see who built them first and why:

The emergence of kurgans

emergence-kurganIn his book Рождение Кургана (2012), The Emergence of the Kurgan, Sergei Korenevskiy makes a thorough analysis of the first kurgan finds.

The Novodanilovka group (ca. 4500-4000 BC), coincident with the Trypillia B1 stage, is characterized by the presence of ochre (in great quantity) in burials, as seen in Khvalynsk, as well as stone constructions in burials.

NOTE. Similarly to Rassamakin, Korenevskiy believes in the unity of North Pontic cultures, and specifically of Novodanilovka chiefs among Sredni Stog commoners, and of all of them with Khvalynsk in a Khvalynsk-Sredni Stog cultural-historical region, because of their “chronological and regional coincidence” and similar pottery, in spite of differences in burial and symbolism. So, hardly an interested party in supporting the expansion of Khvalynsk to the west, either.

Obviously, for those of us who believe that symbolism and burials do mean something beyond similar pottery decoration, in the instances where Sredni Stog appears in his text, it should be read Novodanilovka (and Khvalynsk-Sredni Stog should be read Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka) instead; because he is not referring to the older Khvalynsk – Sredni Stog community of the beginning of the 5th millennium, but to a very distinct group of sites related to the Khvalynsk expansion with horse symbolism at the end of the 5th millenium.

For the early Eneolithic time and the existence of the Khvalynsk-Sredni Stog community, on the problem under consideration, the main source [of knowledge for the first kurgans] may be the Nalchik and Khvalynsk burial grounds.

The kurgans themselves were not simple pits filled with earth. There was a belief that the funerary structure was the place where the buried moved to another world. Most likely, such a place could be considered to be a generic collective cemetery.

The second important point may be that the Eneolithic era was the time of development of a prestigious economy that created its values ​​in the form of different things. Among them were items requiring high skills or manufacturing techniques (different woolen tools, scepters, stone bracelets), as well as tools that occupy an important role in labor, war and industry (stone flat axes, arrowheads, knife-like plates and chips of flint). The decorations of the burial costume included certain iconic objects – bone plates from canine fang, pins, bone sticks with a hole- “zurki”).

Presented were a variety of beads from bone, stone, shell. Bead washers could be collected in whole garlands, thus acquiring a special value. Prestigious cult things, presumably, were copper jewelry: beads, rings, bracelets. They, like the shells, were products of the gift exchange and reflected the direct or indirect involvement of the owners.

Map of the Eneolithic burial monuments of the Pontic – Ciscaucasian steppes (automatically translated from Russian):
1 – Csongrad, 2 – Decha Mureshului, 3 – Targovishte (Gonova Mogila), 4 – Kulvec, 5 – Devnya river, 6 – Kamenar, 7 – Kasimcha, 8 – Lungoch-Fundund, 9 – Falciu, 10 – Jurdjulesti, 11 – 12 – Suvorovo, 13 – Kaynary, 14 – Artsz, 15 – Koshary, 16 – Krivoy Rog, 17 – Zalina, 18 – Dereyevka, 19 – Igren 8, 20 – Chapley, 21 – Petro-Svistunovo, 22 – in Vinogradny, 23 in Zagorozhye, 24 in Novodanilovka, 25 in Blagoveshchenka, 26 in Kut, 27 in Lower Rogachik, 28 in Lyubimovka, 29 in Alekasandria, 30 in Yama, 31 in Olkhovatka, 32 in Aleksandrov, 33 in Lugansk Voroshilovgrad), 34 – Don, 35 – Mariupol, 36 – Liventsovka-1, 37 – Wet Chaltyr, 38 – Likhovsky, 39 – Mukhin II, 40 – Karataevo, 41 – Coysug, 42 – Krasnogorovka III, 43 – South, 44 – hut. Popova, 45 – Baturinskaya, 46 – Novotitarovskaya, 47 – Staronizhesteblyevskaya, 48 – Suvorovskaya, 49 – Cheerful Grove I and III, 50 – Kyzburun III, 51 – Nalchik, 52 – Upper Akbash, 53 – Galyugaevsky barrows, 54 – Coma – Ravo, 55 – Bamut, 56 – Arkhara, 57 – Kursavsky, 58 – Nikolsky, 59 – Kokberek, 60 – New School, 61 – Tube, 62 – Narym-Bay, 63 – Ak Zhounas, 64 – Shlyakhovsky, 65 – Political , 66 – Berezovka I and II, 67 – Even, 68 – Novotrivolnoe, 69 – Tarlyk, 70 – Engels-Anisovka, 71 – Khlopkovo hillfort, 72 – Khvalynsk I and II, 73 – Krivoluchye, 74 – Ivanovsky, 75 – Tunnel, 76 – Ipatovo , 77 – Aigursky, 78 – Tipki, 79 – Sharahalsun, 80 – Chograi, 81 – Overload, 82 – Novokorsunovskaya, 83 – Cardonik, 84 – Vladimirovskaya 85 – Pyatigorsk (Konstantinovsky plateau), 86 – Steblitsky, 87 – Jangr, 88 – Progress-2 The map was made on the basis of the publication I.V. Manzuri (Manzura, 2000. With. 244, fig. 1) with additions of the author

Khvalynsk and Nalchik first marked burials

[The Nalchik burials:] with respect to the reconstruction of social relations, data are few. In general, the funerary practice of this necropolis does not reflect the position of any fighting tools in the grave. (…)

Judging by the rare ornaments from the burials of the necropolis, the population that left it was implicated in the prestigious values of the Khvalynsk-Sredni Stog community. A more detailed picture of the era of early Eneolithic reflects the data of the Khvalynsk-type burial ground.

Funerary monuments of the steppe Eneolithic Ciscaucasian group, the Don-Volga interfluve and the Nalchik burial ground against the background of the Eneolithic groups of South of Eastern Europe (automatically translated from Russian): 1 – Aigursky, 2 – Veselyaya Roshcha and s. Zhukovsky, 3 – Sharahalsun, 4 – Chograi, 5 – Galyugaevsky burial mounds, 6 – Komarovo, 7 – Grozny, 8 – Suvorovo, 9 – Upper Akbash, 10 – Kizburun III, 11 – Baturin, 12 – Staronizhnesteblyevskaya, 13 – Novotitarovskaya, 14 – Cardonik, 15 – Steblitsky, 16 – Vladimirovskaya, 17 – Tunnel, 18 – Progress-2, 19 – Ipatovo, 20 – Novokorsunovskaya, 21 – Bamut 22 – Kursavsky, 23 – Arkhara, 24 – Nikolsky, 25 – Jangr, 26 – Overload, 27 – Shlyakhovsky, 28 – Nalchik burial ground, 29 – Samashki, 30 – Pyatigorsk, Konstantinovsky plateau, 31 – Berezhnovka-I, 32 – Bykovo I – Ciscaucasian groups a, II – Volga-Manych group, III – Lower Don group, IV – Dono-Donetsk group, V – Podneprovskaya group, VI – Zavolzhskaya (Volga-Uriural) group (given in fragmentary form: Berezhnovka I, room 5, item 22, Bykovo 2 point 3)
Map from Wang et al. (2018) [to be compared with the initial distribution of kurgans in the region]. The zoomed map shows the location of sites in the Caucasus. The size of the circle reflects number of individuals that produced genome-wide data. The dashed line illustrates a hypothetical geographic border between genetically distinct Steppe and Caucasus clusters.

(…) the Khvalynsk burial ground was characterized by a system of age groups and a forming social structure based on the hierarchy of estate groups. The social organization of Khvalynians can be characterized by the stage of evolution of a small-family variant of the development of a primitive society, in which the social status of a man and a woman became closer. The role of the married woman / mother was accentuated. Archaeological signs of this process can be considered joint burials of old people and children and as part of burials with same and mixed genders.

Statistics of the Khvalynsk burial ground. Примечание: ж. — женский, п. — подросток, р. — ребенок, м. — мужской, вз. — взрослый

In summary, one can arrive at the following conclusions. It is unlikely to be a mistake if we assume that the Khvalynsk burial ground was abandoned by a local community that lived on the basis of the tribal collective. Their economic activities were connected with hunting, fishing, homestead cattle breeding with an obvious acquaintance with the horse (it is not known if the object of hunting or domestication). In the mythology of the afterlife and the funerary traditions of the Khvalynians, the same egalitarianism of the forms of funerary buildings was dominant, but signs of the personification of graves began to appear, with marks in the rarest of cases with stones.

Unlike the Nalchik cemetery, in the Khvalynsk and Khlopkovsky burial grounds, new trends in assessments of the suitability of implements for funerary practice are clearly discernible. So, they expressed themselves in the appearance of rare graves with scepters, axes – buggers, stone adzes, harpoons and fishing hooks. Basically, all these symbols of the rite are associated with male burials. The least saturated with burial items with stone adzes, and they are represented in small forms. But the fact is important. Society began to pay attention to these categories of objects, linking their symbols with mythological ideas about the things of the afterlife and their functions in the “other dimension of reality” specifically as tools of war and symbols of military power or valor (axes with trunnions), spiritual power (scepters), as well as woodworking (adzes). In terms of “wealth”, these complexes were not particularly distinguished from other inventory sets.

The population that left the Khvalynsk burial ground had to do with the deficit of the era, which was copper products. The latter emphasized, apparently, the age status of some men from 40 to 60 years old and adult women. Another scarce raw material could be a sea shell (item 38) from the burial of a man aged 25-35 years.

As a result, it can be concluded that the complexes of funerary ritual of the Khvalynsk burial ground indicate the existence of ideas about a person at the time of his transition to another world, as a member of the collective of the clan (community) with the admitted individual prestige of things that emphasize his age or social status, but in the framework of the common egalitarian tradition of a collective necropolis. At this time, presumably, views were developing on the relationship of the things put in the grave with the “property” of the buried.

Map of finds of scepters 1: 1 – Khvalynsky burial ground; 2 – Cotton hill fort and cemetery; 3 – Fitionion; 4 – Rezevo; 5 – Drama; 6 – Vinc de Jos; 7 – Ružinoas; 8 – Kayraklia; 9 – Selcuca; 10 – Suvorovo; 1 1 – Terekli Mekteb; 12 – Khlopkovsky burial ground; 13 – Kasimcha; 14 – Kokbek; 15 – Samara (Kuibyshev); 16 – Shlyakhovsky; 17 – Archa; 18 – Mogosesti; 19 – Vladikavkaz (Ordzhonikidze); 20 – Jungr; 21 – Harvesting; 22 – Maykop; 23 – Alexandria; 2: 1 – Valen; 2 – Yasenev Polyana; 3 – Birllesti; 4 – Harvesting; 5 – Rostov-on-Don; 6 – Berezovskaya HPP; 7 – Zhora de Souz, 8 – Fedeshen; 9 – Konstantinovsky settlement. Conditional signs. 1 – group 3, 2 – group 4, 3 – groups 1, 2, 4 – group 5, 5 – group 4, 6 – group 6

The aftermath of the kurgan expansion

The most important phenomenon in the Weltanschauung of the late Eneolithic population in the steppes of Eastern Europe and Ciscaucasia was the spread of the religious tradition, relatively new in comparison with the time of the Mariupol cultural and historical community, according to which the deceased began to go to another world in a position on his back, crocheted, in the company of ochre magic.

This position appears to be dominant in the materials of the Khvalynsk cemetery, and as a very significant – but not dominant – feature of the materials of the Nalchik cemetery. The posture on the back is crocheted, becoming typical for the Sredni Stog culture, as well as the bearers of the oldest Kurgan traditions in the Ciscaucasia and the Volga-Don region.

Our position on this issue is as follows. I can fully adhere to the opinion of B. Govedaritsa and I.V. Manzura that the transition of the population of the Khvalynsk – Sredni Stog community to the tradition of the burial crouched on their backs looks like the most important ideological innovation in the mythology of death among the local population of Eastern Europe and Ciscaucasia in relation to the earlier time of the Mariupol cultural and historical community.

Chronology of Cucuteni-Tripolye cultures after Videiko (2004), with corresponding Khvalynsk / Nalchik / Novodanilovka / Pre-Maykop / Maykop kurgans.

In the funerary practice of this cultural education there is much in common with the traditions of the funerary practice of the Balkan-Danube region. At the same time, the posture pose on the back is spread more widely in the Neolithic and Eneolithic than only Western Europe. It was recorded in the necropolis of Kul-Tepe I in Azerbaijan (Abibulaev, 1982), the necropolis of Tepe Gissar in Iran (Schmidt, 1933, 1937), in burials 1, 2 in the settlement of Poylu II of Leleatepin culture in Azerbaijan (the Kura valley) (Museibli , 2010. P. 208). In other words, it is the same universal way of inhumation, like a pose on one side or a burial on the back, although not so widespread on a global scale.

From where and how such ritualism could appear in its specific carriers, it definitely cannot always be established. But let us pay attention to the fact that the peculiarity of the posture of the deceased population of the Khvalynsk – Sredni Stog community on the back is that the deceased was not simply placed on his back, he was often heavily sprinkled with ochre. The last detail of the ritual clearly has a prototype for the carriers of the Mariupol community of the Northern Black Sea Region. This suggests that such funerary practice of the Khvalynsk – Sredni Stog community was formed on the spot, as an internal transformation of the ritual of a stretched-out body with a copious sprinkling of the bone with mineral red paint. The idea of ​​innovation was to set the feet on the ground, which caused the knees to rise.

Map of burial monuments with ochre by regions in the Pontic – Ciscaucasian area (Govedariča, 2004). I – Carpathian group, II – Northwestern group, III – North Black Sea group, IV – Volga-Caspian group, V – North Caucasian group

The consequence for the Proto-Indo-European homeland

So, from now on, when someone says “the oldest known kurgans come from Sredni Stog”, you know what that means: first, these are not the oldest ‘kurgans’, but rather ‘proto-kurgans’ (after, all, some of the first radiocarbon dates of full fledged steppe kurgans come from the Repin culture, if we don’t take the rich Maykop variant into account); and second, they were not really from Sredni Stog, but from Khvalynsk-related cultures, because the first rudimentary kurgans can be clearly traced back to Khvalynsk, Novodanilovka, Northern-Caucasus, and Suvorovo sites.

The latest genetic research on Khvalynsk- and Yamna-related migrations should have been a party for all involved in a quest to know the truth about Proto-Indo-Europeans, as it is becoming clear that their language and culture expanded from the eastern Pontic-Caspian steppe. This is a short checklist of relevant facts:

✅ Khvalynsk formed from EHG + local steppe Neolithic groups: checked.

✅ Kurgan origins and expansion from Khvalynsk: checked.

✅ Expansion of horse domestication and horse symbolism from Khvalynsk: checked.

✅ Arrival of steppe ancestry in the Balkans with Suvorovo: checked.

✅ Patrilineal clans proven by Y-DNA bottlenecks in Khvalynsk and Yamna: checked.

✅ Homogeneous genetic admixture of expanding Yamna: checked.

✅ Admixture different from Yamna in coetaneous West and Central European, Corded Ware, Fennoscandian, Caucasus, and Indus Valley samples: checked.

✅ Expansion of Khvalynsk as Early Yamna and Afanasevo: checked.

✅ Expansion of Yamna Hungary as East Bell Beakers: checked.

✅ Y-DNA bottlenecks of expanding Bell Beakers: checked.

✅ Expansion of East Yamna (and admixture with CWC) in Sintashta/Potapovka: checked.

✅ Y-DNA bottlenecks of expanding Andronovo/Srubna: checked.

✅ Yamna in the Balkans and steppe ancestry in Mycenaeans (in contrast with Minoans): checked.

✅ Bell Beaker expansion over Europe and later resurge of R1a-Z645 in Central-East Europe: checked.

All this combined is giving a clear-cut image of how Proto-Indo-Europeans expanded. More importantly, it shows – as I have said many times already – that Proto-Indo-European was a real language, spoken by an evolving and expanding community (with radical language changes beautifully coupled with archaeological expansions). The implications of this are huge, if only because we can finally get rid of all naysayers in linguistics and archaeology, who wanted to speak about ‘constellations of languages’ and ‘pots not people’.

So why would some of those who describe themselves as interested in Prehistory not accept this as the most likely picture right now? I can just think of one tiny item of the checklist, among many that are left unchecked or have been unchecked due to the latest genetic research:

❌ ‘MY haplogroup’ was involved in the expansion of ‘MY people’: Unchecked.

It is not just that this isn’t checked. It was checked by many in the 1990s and in the 2000s, and some stupid magical meaning was attributed to it. But now it has been unchecked for most Europeans, and this has caused an absurd unrest among some of them, who are now joining those who already opposed mainstream theories (e.g. supporters of the Anatolian homeland, the Iran homeland, the Indus Valley homeland, etc.) with a common aim: to spread reactionary views against the mainstream theories.

If all samples from Khvalynsk, Yamna, Afanasevo, and Bell Beaker had been R1a-Z645; most European Neolithic samples had shown R1b-L23 subclades; and results from Sredni Stog, Corded Ware and part of the Indo-Iranian community were of haplogroup N1c-L392 (although eventually R1a-Z645 had expanded with Indo-Iranians)… Would these people doubt all those facts from the checklist? I don’t think so.


Mitogenomes from the middle of the Merovingian period in the Lorraine region


Investigating the kinship between individuals deposited in exceptional Merovingian multiple burials through aDNA analysis: The case of Hérange burial 41 (Northeast France), by Deguilloux et al. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports (2018) 20:784-790.

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

The Merovingian period in Northeast France (developing from 440/450 to 700/710 CE; Legoux et al., 2004) represents [a case of multiple burial], where a large majority of the types of deposits encountered consists of individual burials. In this context, whereas hundreds of individual burials are known, the syntheses recently conducted have enabled the inventory of only six multiple burials (Lefebvre and Lafosse, 2016). These observations naturally raised questions about the exceptional circumstances that led the members of the community to set up such unusual burials. The archaeological site of Hérange, excavated in 2014 (Lorraine, Grand Est region; Fig. S1), holds a key position in the debate surrounding the interpretation of multiple burials during the Merovingian period since it contains one of these rare multiple burials: burial 41, which was dated through archaeological material to the period 530–640 CE.

(…) The biological analysis of the human remains recovered in the second burial (“burial 41”) enabled the demonstration of the combined presence of a woman of approximately 40 years old (A) and three immature individuals, including a 4–5-year-old child (B), a 14–16-year-old teenager (C) and a 2,5–3-month-old infant (D) (Lefebvre and Lafosse, 2016) (Fig. 1). Since rare multiple burials described for the Merovingian period in Northeast France mainly contained two or rarely three deceased, the discovery of a burial grouping four individuals reinforced its exceptional nature. (…) Intriguingly, great care was observed in the treatment of the dead, as illustrated through a special arrangement of the deceased in the grave (Fig. 1). Indeed, the woman A occupied a central position in the grave, with her left arm covering part of the body of child D, her right arm covering the torso of child B and her right hand covering the legs of children B and C. Several arguments, such as the close contact or the imbrication of the bones of individuals A, B and C, have attested to the simultaneity of their deposits in the burial (Lefebvre and Lafosse, 2016).

Geographic distribution of the extant European individuals sharing mitochondrial haplotypes with the Hérange human remains.

Interestingly, studies have demonstrated an important chronological homogeneity for the rare multiple burials discovered for the Merovingian period in the Lorraine region (Lefebvre and Lafosse, 2016). The collected data support the existence of an epiphenomenon arisen around the middle of the Merovingian period and that may have linked the multiple burials to (i) a funerary “fashion trend” for a special group of the community, (ii) an increase in cases of violence or (iii) an epidemic crisis linked to infectious disease. In other Lorraine sites, none of the available indices permitted the specification of the cause of death for the individuals recovered in these specific burials. The deceased could well have died of natural causes, violent acts or infectious diseases that had left no visible evidence on the skeletal.

Nuclear data (Y chromosome SNPs and nuclear STRs) typed on the four Hérange human remains (STRs alleles shown in grey were not fully replicated).

The aDNA analyses conducted on the four individuals discovered in the exceptional multiple burial 41 from Hérange (Lorraine) have demonstrated strong biological links between three individuals. Notably, we could propose that the woman A was the mother of the two immatures B and D deposited just besides her whereas she was not genetically closely related to the teenager C deposited along her legs. Consequently, we propose that the special arrangement of the deceased in the grave clearly reflected the degree of biological links between the deposited individuals. In Hérange, the bereaved were well aware of kinship among the deceased, wanted to express this close linkage through their relative location within the burial, and intentionally arranged body positions consequently. In conclusion, the collected archaeological, archaeo-anthropological and genetic data suggest that the special setup of the multiple burial 41 in the Hérange necropolis and the great care in the treatment of the dead, could be explained by the contemporaneous death of the four related individuals. Data gathered for other archaeological sites from the region or in Germany suggested an epidemic crisis (plague epidemic?) during the middle of the Merovingian period that may explain the contemporaneous death of related individuals living in close contact and easily sharing pathogens.


Reported mtDNA haplogroups include U* for samples A, B, and D, and H for sample C.


On the Maykop – Upper Mesopotamia cultural province, distinct from the steppe


New paper (behind paywall) The Production of Thin‐Walled Jointless Gold Beads from the Maykop Culture Megalithic Tomb of the Early Bronze Age at Tsarskaya in the North Caucasus: Results of Analytical and Experimental Research, by Trifonov et al. Archaeometry (2018)

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

In 1898, two megalithic tombs containing graves of a local social elite dated to the Early Bronze Age were discovered by N. I. Veselovsky near the village of Tsarskaya (modern Novosvobodnaya, Republic of Adygeya) (Fig. 1 (a)) (Baye 1900, 43–59; IAC 1901, 33–8; Sagona 2018, 281–97).

Radiocarbon dates place both tombs within the Novosvobodnaya phase of the Maykop culture, between c. 3200 and 2900 BC (Trifonov et al. 2017). Along with the human remains (one adult individual was interred in each dolmen), the tombs yielded rich funerary offerings, including artefacts made of gold, silver and semi-precious stones. (…) This paper presents results of a technical analysis of just one type of artefact, from kurgan 2 at Tsarskaya: thin-walled jointless beads made from gold.

(a) A map of the Caucasus and part of Western Asia, showing the locations of sites mentioned in the text: 1, Tsarskaya (modern Novosvobodnaya); 2, Maykop; 3, Staromyshastovskaya; 4, Andryukovskaya; 5, Psebaiskaya; 6, Inozemtsevo; 7, Kudakhurt; 8, Soyuq Bulaq; 9, Sé Girdan; 10, Tepe Gawra. (b) The string of thin-walled jointless gold beads, silver and carnelian beads from the dolmen in kurgan 2 at Tsarskaya, Western Caucasus (1898).

Ever since M. I. Rostovtzeff noted a stylistic similarity between Maykop art and Sumerian art (Rostovtzeff 1920) and M. V. Andreeva described this phenomenon within a broad cultural and chronological context (Andreeva 1977), new archaeological studies have only extended this picture of a vast cultural province that appeared between the Caucasus and the northern fringe of Western Asia (Trifonov 1987). The discovery of the Leyla-Tepe culture (Narimanov 1987) and Maykop-type kurgans in Azerbaijan (Lyonnet et al. 2008) and adjacent Iran (Muscarella 1969, 1971, 2003; Trifonov 2000) has confirmed the spatial and temporal unity of this phenomenon as a precondition for free circulation of cultural patterns and technical innovations across vast areas of the Caucasus and Western Asia. Jewellery made of gemstones and precious metals, primarily gold, was probably one such innovation.

Attempts to demarcate the historical region where the Maykop culture emerged and developed have emphasized the role of Upper Mesopotamia in the development of the Sumerian civilization and the definition of a northern centre of urbanization, independent from the centres of the south (Rothman 2002; Oats et al. 2007). The turn of the fourth millennium BC saw the development of various cultural traditions in south-east Anatolia, north-east Syria and north-west Iran; on the northern fringe, these traditions manifested themselves through the Maykop culture. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the first high-status burials containing gold and gemstone jewellery (including carnelian, turquoise and lapis lazuli) appear in these northern, rather than southern, centres in the first quarter of 4000 BC (e.g., Tepe Gawra, graves 109, 110) (Piasnall 2002). With regard to funeral rites and stylistic characteristics of jewellery pieces, these graves have many parallels with early Maykop burials (Munchaev 1975, 329; Trifonov 1987, 20).

It still remains unclear if the goldsmiths of Upper Mesopotamia mastered the technique of making thin-walled jointless beads. The gold beads from Tepe Gawra are described as spherical or ball-shaped, but their maximum diameter (5–8mm) always exceeds the length of the bore (3–4mm) (Tobler 1950, 89, 199, pl. LV, a). On the whole, these measurements are consistent with the proportions and sizes of some Maykop beads.(…)

It is quite possible that a distinctive technique of making thin-walled jointless beads from gold was a regional technological development of Maykop culture goldsmiths, within a wider tradition of Near East metalwork, as a type of production regulated by ritual beliefs (Gell 1992; Benzel 2013).

These deep-rooted Near East traditions of ritualization of the production and use of jewellery pieces made of gold, silver and gemstones in the Maykop culture, on the one hand, maintained familiar canons of ritual behaviour and, on the other, made perception of sophisticated symbolism of gemstones more difficult for neighbouring cultures with different living standards, levels of social development and value systems to understand. The jewellery traditions of the Maykop culture had no successors in the Caucasus or the adjacent steppes. In the third millennium BC, the goldsmiths of Europe and Asia had to reinvent the technique of making thin-walled jointless gold beads from scratch (Born et al. 2009).

Also interesting is Holocene environmental history and populating of mountainous Dagestan (Eastern Caucasus, Russia), by Ryabogina et al., Quaternary International (2018).

The combination of Holocene environment changes and the settlement of the territory of Dagestan.

Related excerpts, about the climate of an adjacent region of the Caucasus before, during, and after the Maykop culture:

The 7th millennium BC featured a warm and arid climate, so that time corresponds to the steppe landscapes in the final stage of the Mesolithic. It is likely that the formation of a producing economy in the mountainous zone of Dagestan gradually emerged against this background. In the Neolithic period, the area remained almost treeless, as it was still warm and quite dry. However, archaeological data indicates that long-term settlements with well-developed farming spread in the mountainous zone around 6200-5500 BC.

The beginning of increasing humidity and the appearance of deciduous forests corresponds to the early Chalcolithic period of the Eastern Caucasus. It is the most poorly studied period in the history of this region. Covering a time span of 2000 years, this period was the least saturated by archaeological sites. At the start of this period, only the stands of herdsman in the mountain zone are known, dating to the second half of the 6th millennium BC (Gadgiev, 1991). It is still not clear whether the mountains were not settled in such a favorable climatic stage. The uncertainty may be due to the fact that people have chosen other ecological niches, or it could be we simply do not have data due to the insufficient archaeological survey of the territory. It is surprising that the turn to drier climate and the reduction of deciduous forests in the inner mountainous part of Dagestan, the large, long-term settlements like Ginchi emerge with pronounced specialization in agriculture (Fig. 7 panel (2)) (Gadgiev, 1991).

After the dry climate, simultaneously with cooling, the subsequent spread of pine forests coincides with the beginning of expansion of Kura-Araxes culture from the territory of Georgia through Chechnya to the mountainous Dagestan. Debates on the impact of past climate on Kura-Araxes societies in Transcaucasus have a long history (for the comprehensive review see, for example, Connor and Kvavadze, 2014 and references therein). In general, it is clear that after 3000 BC, forest cover in most areas of the Kura-Araxes region in the Transcaucasia reached its maximum extent in the Holocene (Connor and Kvavadze, 2014). However, at the same time lakes in Central Anatolia began to dry out and Caspian Sea levels fell (Roberts et al. 2011; Leroy et al. 2013), and arid conditions were identified in mountainous Dagestan in the 4th millennium. Clearly the regional moisture balance shifted in the Eastern Caucasus only in the late 4th to early 3rd millennium BC (this study). The only available radiocarbon dating of Dagestan confirms that the agricultural settlements of the Early Bronze Age appear not in the middle of the 4th millennium BC, but in the early 3rd millennium BC; that is not earlier than the stage of increasing moistening and the appearance of pine forests.

See also:

Yamna/Afanasevo elite males dominated by R1b-L23, Okunevo brings ancient Siberian/Asian population


Open access paper New genetic evidence of affinities and discontinuities between bronze age Siberian populations, by Hollard et al., Am J Phys Anthropol. (2018) 00:1–11.

NOTE. This seems to be a peer-reviewed paper based on a more precise re-examination of the samples from Hollard’s PhD thesis, Peuplement du sud de la Sibérie et de l’Altaï à l’âge du Bronze : apport de la paléogénétique (2014).

Interesting excerpts:

Afanasevo and Yamna

The Afanasievo culture is the earliest known archaeological culture of southern Siberia, occupying the Minusinsk-Altai region during the Eneolithic era 3600/3300 BC to 2500 BC (Svyatko et al., 2009; Vadetskaya et al., 2014). Archeological data showed that the Afanasievo culture had strong affinities with the Yamnaya and pre-Yamnaya Eneolithic cultures in the West (Grushin et al., 2009). This suggests a Yamnaya migration into western Altai and into Afanasievo. Note that, in most current publications, “the Yamnaya culture” combines the so-called “classical Yamnaya culture” of the Early Bronze Age and archeological sites of the preceding Repin culture in the middle reaches of the Don and Volga rivers. In the present article we conventionally use the term Yamnaya in the same sense, in which case the beginning of the “Yamnaya culture” can be dated after the middle of the 4th millennium BC, when the Afanasievo culture appeared in the Altai.

Because of numerous traits attributed to early Indo-Europeans and cultural relations with Kurgan steppe cultures, members of the Afanasievo culture are believed to have been Indo-European speakers (Mallory and Mair, 2000). In a recent whole-genome sequencing study, Allentoft et al. (2015) concluded that Eastern Yamnaya individuals and Afanasievo individuals were genetically indistinguishable. Moreover, this study and one published concurrently by Haak et al. (2015) analyzed 11 Eastern Yamnaya males and showed that all of them belonged to the R1b1a1a (formerly R1b1a) (…)

Early Chalcolithic migrations ca. 3300-2600 BC.

Published works indicate that R1b was a predominant haplogroup from the late Neolithic to the early Bronze Age, notably in the Bell Beaker and Yamnaya cultures (Allentoft et al., 2015; Haak et al., 2015; Lee et al., 2012; Mathieson et al., 2015). Nearly 100% of the Afanasievo men we typed belonged to the R1b1a1a subhaplogroup and, for at least three of them, more precisely to the L23 (xM412) subclade. (…)

(…) our results therefore support the hypothesis of a genetic link between Afanasievo and Yamnaya. This also suggests that R1b was indeed dominant in the early Bronze Age Siberian steppe, at least in individuals that were buried in kurgans (possibly an elite part of the population). The geographical and temporal distribution of subhaplogroup R1b1a1a supports the hypothesis of population expansion from West to East in the Eurasian steppe during this period. It should however be noted that the Yamnaya burials from which the samples for DNA analysis were obtained (Allentoft et al., 2015; Haak et al., 2015; Mathieson et al., 2015) were dated within the limits of the Afanasievo period. Ancestors of both East Yamnaya and Afanasievo populations must therefore be sought in the context of earlier Eneolithic cultures in Eastern Europe. Sufficient Y-chromosomal data from such Eneolithic populations is, unfortunately, not yet available.

Mitochondrial- (A) and Y- (B) haplogroup distribution in studied populations

Okunevo and paternal lineage shift in South Siberia

Results obtained in the current study, from more than a dozen Okunevo individuals belonging to the earliest stage of Okunevo culture, that is the Uibat period (2500–2200 BC) (Lazaretov, 1997), suggest a discontinuity in the genetic pool between Afanasievo and Okunevo cultures. Although Y-chromosomal data obtained for bearers of the Okunevo culture showed that one individual carried haplogroup R1b, most Okunevo Y-haplogroups are representative of an Asian component represented by paternal lineages Q and NO1.

Okunevo carrier of Y-haplogroup Q1b1a-L54, which also supports this hypothesis (L54 being a marker of the lineage from which M3, the main Ameridian lineage, arose). Okunevo people could therefore be a remnant paleo-Siberian population with possible Afanasievo input, as suggested by the presence of the R1b1a1a2a subhaplogroup in one individual.

Late Chalcolithic migrations ca. 2600-2250 BC.

Replacement of Asian Indo-European elite lineages by R1a

Published genetic data from the late Bronze Age Andronovo culture from the Minusinsk Basin (Keyser et al., 2009), the Sintashta culture from Russia (Allentoft et al., 2015) and the Srubnaya culture from the region of Samara (Mathieson et al., 2015), show that males did not belong to Y-haplogroup R1b but mostly to R1a clades: there appears to have been a change in the dominant Y-chromosomal haplogroup between the early and the late Bronze Age in these regions. Moreover, as described in Allentoft et al. (2015), the Andronovo and Sintashta peoples were closely related to each other but clearly distinct from both Yamnaya and Afanasievo. Although these results do not imply that Y-haplogroup R1b was entirely absent in these later populations, they could correspond to a replacement of the elite between these two main periods and therefore a difference in the haplogroups of the men that were preferentially buried.

Early Bronze Age migrations ca. 2250-1750 BC.

Afanasevo and the Tarim Basin

The discovery, in the Tarim Basin, of well-preserved mummies from the Bronze Age allows for the construction of two hypotheses regarding the peopling of the Xinjiang province at this period. The “steppe hypothesis,” argues for a link with nomadic steppe herders (Hemphill and Mallory, 2004), possibly represented in this case by Afanasievo populations and their descendants (Mallory and Mair, 2000). However, newly published cultural data from the burial grounds of Gumugou (Wang, 2014) and Xiaohe (Xinjiang, 2003, 2007) shows material culture and burial rites incompatible with the Afanasievo culture. The earliest 14C date for Tarim Basin burials would place them at the turn of the 2nd millenium BC (Wang, 2013), 500 years after the Afanasievo period.

Instead, early Gumugou and Xiaohe burial grounds were contemporary with the start of the Andronovo period. Likewise, the Bronze Age population of the Xinjiang at Gumugou/Qäwrighul is not phenotypically closest to Afanasievo but to the Andronovo (Fedorovo) group of northeastern Kazakhstan and western Altai (Kozintsev, 2009). Our investigations demonstrate that Y-chromosomal lineage composition is also compatible with the notion that the ancient Tarim population was genetically distinct from the Afanasievo population. The only Y-haplogroup found by Li et al. (2010) in the Bronze Age Tarim Basin population was Y-haplogroup R1a, which suggests a proximity of this population with Andronovo groups rather than Afanasievo groups.

I don’t think these finds are much of a surprise based on what we already know, or need much explanation…

I would add that, once again, we have more proof that the movement of Okunevo and related ancient Siberian migrants from Central or North Asia will not be able to explain the presence of Uralic languages spread over North-East Europe and Scandinavia already during the Bronze Age.

Also interesting is to read in more peer-reviewed papers the idea of Late Indo-European speakers clearly linked to the expansion of patrilineally-related elite males marked by haplogroup R1b-L23, most likely since Eneolithic Khvalynsk/Repin cultures.


The unique elite Khvalynsk male from a Yekaterinovskiy Cape burial

Recent paper (behind paywall) The Unique Burial of the Ekaterinovsky Cape Early Eneolithic Cemetery in the Middle Volga Region, by Korolev et al. Stratum Plus (2018) Nº2.

Abstract (official, in English):

This is the first time we published the results of a comprehensive study of burial 45 of the eneolithic cemetery called Ekaterinovsky Cape. The burial contains the skeleton of a young man with traumatic injuries of the skull, leg and hand bones of other individuals, skeleton of a young specimen of a domestic goat (Capra hircus) that was abundantly sprinkled with red ocher. Grave goods include three stone scepters of different types, a large item made of horn in the shape of a bird’s head, a stone adze, knife-like plates of quartzite, beads from the flaps of the shells (Unio), marmot cutters, decoration made from a beaver’s tooth. The uniqueness of the burial is determined by the combination of the composition of the grave goods and traces of ritual practices. To conclude, we suggest the buried man could belong to the elite of the society that left this burial ground.

NOTE. About my terminology, Russian has a lenited pronunciation of E in this case, hence the “Ye-” transliteration of the name of the town (and the site) in Google as Yekaterinovka. The “more etymological” transliteration is with “E”, as they use here, although Russians paradoxically use phonetic transliterations of foreign terms. I prefer the lenited transliteration to distinguish the Russian site from other Ekaterinovkas, though.

Schematic view from burial 45. Male of 20-25 years, ca. 4400-4200 BC.

Interesting excerpt (translated from Russian):

Perhaps, we should correlate three very closely related damages [on the skull] with certain rituals, with which scepters could be associated. Each scepter could be a symbolic expression of a part of society, a type of activity, reaching a certain age and social status. This assumption does not seem incredible in combination with other extant, no less impressive, details of the funeral rite. Of great interest is the ornithomorphic rod of the horn. The location of the wand in the head and right half of the breast emphasizes its special significance in ritual practice and in funeral rites. Direct analogies to this product in other burial places of the cemetery are absent, and outside it authors are not known.

NOTE. Although the paper is in Russian and is behind paywall, it is really cheap, and can be easily translated with Google Translate if you can’t read Russian, so – unlike usual papers from the big publishing companies – you could support the journal by paying for it. You can read more about this burial at Pikabu, too. Photos and text in that post are not the same as in the paper, though, so it seems that the author of the text got the information either directly or from another source.

On the genetic data

Here is what I could gather about the report I shared of R1b-L51 lineages in Samara:

1) Yes, the comment at contains a more or less accurate summary of the oral communication actually given. And no, no more interesting data – from a genetic point of view – was presented.

2) What A.A. Khokhlov reported was preliminary genetic information from some samples, and an outside lab shared this information with him.

NOTE. It is well-known that David Anthony, also part of the Samara Valley project, provided the Reich Lab with Khvalynsk and Yamna samples from the region, so it would not be a surprise that these had been in fact assessed by the Reich Lab, too. This is my assumption, though, and I may be wrong.

3) What the report conveys is that “all samples investigated” belonged to R1b-P312 and R1b-U106, so I understand there are in principle more than two samples, whatever Google Translate says.

4) As R. Rocca said in Anthrogenica, the reported R1b1a1a2a1a1c2b2b1a2 (U106 subclade) is exactly the same one reported in Narasimhan et al. (2018) for the sample from the Iron Age site Loebanr 1 (Swat proto-historic graves) ca. 950 BC.

NOTE. That would be another hint at the origin of the preliminary data, together with the timing of the report (January), probably coinciding with the final assessment of samples which appeared in Narasimhan et al. (2018). That would explain the similar weird Y-SNP calls from software yHaplo (as reported by Narasimhan in Twitter). This is all again conjecture, though.

R1b-P312 is not reported in Narasimhan et al. (2018) for any sample (that would be “R1b1a1a2a1b”, following the standard used in their tables). Because the V88 sample in Khvalynsk, as well as other previously known V88 samples, are correctly reported as within the V88 branch, we may be talking about anything in the R1b tree from L754 (xV88) on. Most likely at or beyond the subclade of the Zvejnieki sample of hg R1b1a1 (classified as of R1b1a1a2a1), i.e. from P297 on.

NOTE. Since R1b-Z2103 samples are correctly reported, it is unlikely that the reported samples are from this branch, either.

Graphic reconstruction from the elite male of grave 45, by R. M. Galeev.

It is possible, then, that we will have haplogroup R1b-M269 or L23 instead of L51, after all, and there would be then no major corrections to be made, either to the estimated dates from McDonald or Yfull (with their current differences), or to my predictions for early and late Khvalynsk, Repin, and Yamna

NOTE. In fact, the appearance of R1b-M269* and/or L23* linked to expanding Khvalynsk could be the perfect end to the resurging theories on Armenian or Western European origin of this haplogroup.

5) The full official genetic data is expected within a year (precise date unknown), so unless someone knows of a related draft in the making (which could publish them earlier), I would keep my expectations low for an official confirmation of the precise subclade any time soon.

NOTE. The best likely proxy for the reported data, if the above assumptions on Y-SNP calls and the software used are correct, is therefore to check out – whenever the corrected tables are published – the samples in Narasimhan et al. (2018) now classified as of R1b1a1a2a1(-) subclades. Or to experiment with the software and available BAM files to see which ones give this result…

6) I don’t know if Khokhlov’s book on Samaran archaeology will contain a reference to the samples, but I doubt it could contribute much more to the genetic data.

The meaning of Yekaterinovka

Of course, the Yekaterinovskiy Cape burials are just a tiny sampling of the dozens of settlements known from Khvalynsk, and the known ones represent just a tiny part of the hundreds that the culture probably had while it developed for more than a thousand years. In that sense, you may say that it is statistically not significant.

Nevertheless, as Anthony’s team recently said when explaining the relevance of their findings at Radzorskoe, the potential implications of any discovery at any of the few studied sites are very important. In this case, by confirming that late Khvalynsk became dominated early by R1b-M269, as was later Yamna, and as were early Yamna offshoots like Afanasevo and Bell Beaker.

I really don’t have anything more to add, whether in comments or per email. That’s as much information and speculation as you can get from me (or from them, I guess). If you want more, you can write to the team members yourselves.


Consequences of O&M 2018 (II): The unsolved nature of Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chiefs, and the route of Proto-Anatolian expansion


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

I already expressed my predictions for 2018. One of the most interesting questions among them is the identification of the early Anatolian offshoot, and this is – I believe – where Genomics has the most to say in Indo-European migrations.

Linguistics and Archaeology had already a mainstream account from Late PIE/Yamna onwards, and it has been proven right in Genomic investigation. There is, however, no consensus on Indo-Hittite.


Apart from the Anatolian homeland hypothesis and its westward migration (as referenced e.g. by Lazaridis et al. 2017), the other possibility including the most likely steppe homeland is that Proto-Anatolian spread through the Balkans, and must have separated from Khvalynsk and travelled first westward through the North Pontic region, and then southward to Ezero.

EDIT (10 MAR 2018): The Anatolian westward route within the steppe homeland model refers to the possibility that Proto-Anatolian spread south through the Caucasus, and then westward through Anatolia, as suggested e.g. originally by Marija Gimbutas for Maykop, as a link in the Caucasus.

We all know that this Khvalynsk -> Novodanilovka-Suvorovo -> Cernavoda -> Ezero -> Troy migration model proposed by Anthony shows no conspicuous chain in Archaeology, but obvious contacts (including Genomics) are seen among some of these neighbouring cultures in different times.

We know that remains of Suvorovo-Novodanilovka culture of chiefs emerged around 4400-4200 BC among ordinary local Sredni Stog settlements:

  • the Novodanilovka rich burials in the steppes, near the Dnieper,
  • and the Suvorovo group in the Danube delta, roughly coinciding with the massive abandonment of old tell settlements in the area.

One of the strongest cultural connections between Khvalynsk and Suvorovo Novodanilovka chiefs is the similar polished stone mace-heads shaped like horse heads found in both cultures, a typical steppe prestige object going back to the east Pontic-Caspian steppe beginning ca. 5000-4800 BC.

Its finding in the Danube valley may have signalled the expansion of horse riding, which is compatible with the finding of ancient domesticated horses in the region. Horses were not important in Old European cultures, and it seems that they weren’t in Sredni Stog or Kvitjana either.

Steppe and Danubian sites at the time: of the Suvorovo-Novodanilovka intrusion, about 4200-3900 BC. David W. Anthony (2007).

NOTE. Telegin, the main source of knowledge in Ukraine prehistoric cultures for Anthony, was eventually convinced that Surovovo-Novodanilovka was a separate culture. However, for Anthony (using Telegin’s first impressions), it may have been a wealthy elite among Sredni Stog peoples. Anthony considers Sredni Stog to have been also influenced by Khvalynsk, and thus potentially related to the Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chiefs.

Nevertheless, he obviously cannot link North Pontic Eneolithic cultures to Khvalynsk nor to horse riding – whilst he clearly assumes horse riding for Novodanilovka-Suvorovo chiefs – , and he does not link North Pontic cultures to later expansions of Late Proto-Indo-Europeans from late Khvalynsk and Yamna, either.

The question here for Anthony (as with further Proto-Anatolian expansions described in his 2007 book), in my opinion, was to offer a plausible string of connections between Khvalynsk and Anatolia, and the simplest connection one can make among steppe cultures is a general, broad community between North Pontic and North Caspian cultures. That way, the knot tying Khvalynsk to the Danube seems stronger, whatever the origin of Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chiefs.

If, however, a direct genetic connection is made between Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chiefs and Khvalynsk – as in its association with R1b-M269 and R1b-L23 lineages – , there will be little need to include Sredni Stog or any other intermediate culture in the equation.

We have already seen a movement of steppe ancestry into mainland Greece, and I would not be surprised if a parallel movement could be seen from Ezero to Troy (or a neighbouring North-West Anatolian region), so that the final migration of Common Anatolian had in fact been triggered by the massive steppe migrations during the Chalcolithic.

NOTE. Whereas we are certain to find R1b-L23 subclades in the direct Balkan migrations from Yamna, the link of steppe->Anatolia migrations may be a little trickier: even if we find out that the Suvorovo-Novodanilovka expansion was associated with an expansion and reduction of haplogroup variability (to haplogroups R1b-M269 and R1b-L23), we don’t know yet if the ca. 1,500 years passed (and the different cultural and population changes occurred) between Proto-Anatolian and Common Anatolian migrations may have impacted the main haplogroup composition of both communities.

O&M 2018

A probably unsurprising – because of its previously known admixture and PCA – , but nevertheless disappointing finding came from the Y-SNP call of the haplogroup R1 found in Varna (R1b-V88, given first by Genetiker), leaving us with no new haplogroup data standing out for this period.

This sample’s lack of obvious genetic links with the steppe and early date didn’t deter me from believing it could show subclade M269, and thus a sign of incoming Suvorovo chiefs in the region. After all, R1b-P297 subclades seemed to have almost disappeared from the Balkans by that time, and we know that assessments based only on ancestral components and PCA clusters are not infallible – we are seeing that in many, many samples already.

1—39 — sceptre bearers of the type Giurgiuleşti and Suvorovo; 40—60 — Gumelniţa-Varna-Bolgrad-Aldeni cultural sphere; 61 — Fălciu; 62 — Cainari; 63 — Giurgiuleşti; 64 — Suvorovo; 65 — Casimcea; 66 — Kjulevča; 67 — Reka Devnja; 68 — Drama; 69 — Gonova Mogila; 70 — Reževo. Țerna S., Govedarica B. (2016)

NOTE. In fact, the first time I checked Mathieson et al. (2018) supplementary tables I thought that the ‘Ukraine_Eneolithic’ sample of R1b-L23 subclade was ‘it’: the first clear proof in ancient samples of incoming Suvorovo chiefs from Khvalynsk I was looking for…Until I realized its date, and that it was more likely a Late Yamna (or Catacomb) sample.

Steppe ancestry is found in the Varna and Smyadovo outliers, though, and these samples cluster closely to Ukraine Eneolithic samples (which are among Khvalynsk, Ukraine Neolithic, and Anatolia Neolithic clusters), so some population movement must have happened around or before that time in the region, and it is obvious that it happened from east to west.

It remains to be seen, therefore:

a) If the incoming Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chiefs (most likely originally from Khvalynsk) dominating over North Pontic and Danube regions show – as I bet – R1b-M269, and possibly also early R1b-L23* subclades,

b) Or else they still show mixed lineages, reflecting an older admixed population of the Pontic-Caspian steppe – as the early Khvalynsk and Ukraine Eneolithic samples we have now.

NOTE. Even though my preferred model of migration is through the Balkans – due to the many east-west migrations seen from the steppe into Europe – , there is no general consensus here because of the lack of solid anthropological models, and there are cultural links found also between the steppe and Anatolia through the Caucasus, so the question remains open.