Villabruna cluster in Late Epigravettian Sicily supports South Italian corridor for R1b-V88


New preprint Late Upper Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers in the Central Mediterranean: new archaeological and genetic data from the Late Epigravettian burial Oriente C (Favignana, Sicily), by Catalano et al. bioRxiv (2019).

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

Grotta d’Oriente is a small coastal cave located on the island of Favignana, the largest (~20 km2) of a group of small islands forming the Egadi Archipelago, ~5 km from the NW coast of Sicily.

The Oriente C funeral pit opens in the lower portion of layer 7, specifically sublayer 7D. Two radiocarbon dates on charcoal from the sublayers 7D (12149±65 uncal. BP) and 7E, 12132±80 uncal. BP are consistent with the associated Late Epigravettian lithic assemblages (Lo Vetro and Martini, 2012; Martini et al., 2012b) and refer the burial to a period between about 14200-13800 cal. BP, when Favignana was connected to the main island (Agnesi et al., 1993; Antonioli et al., 2002; Mannino et al. 2014).

A-B) Geographic location of Grotta d’Oriente.

The anatomical features of Oriente C are close to those of Late Upper Palaeolithic populations of the Mediterranean and show strong affinity with other Palaeolithic individuals of Sicily. As suggested by Henke (1989) and Fabbri (1995) the hunter-gatherer populations were morphologically rather uniform.

Genetic analysis

We confirmed the originally reported mitochondrial haplogroup assignment of U2’3’4’7’8’9. This haplogroup is present in both pre- and post-LGM populations, but is rare by the Mesolithic, when U5 dominates (Posth et al.2016).

Lipson et al. (2018) (their supplementary Figure S5.1) and Villalba-Mouco et al. (2019) (their Figure 2A) showed that European Late Palaeolithic and Mesolithic hunter-gatherers fall along two main axes of genetic variation. Multidimensional scaling (MDS) of f3-statistics shows that these axes form a “V” shape (Fig. 3). (…)

Focusing further on Oriente C, we find that it shares most drift with individuals from Northern Italy, Switzerland and Luxembourg, and less with individuals from Iberia, Scandinavia, and East and Southeast Europe (Fig. 4A-B). Shared drift decreases significantly with distance (Fig. 4C) and with time (Fig. 4D) although in a linear model of drift with distance and time as a covariate, only distance (p=1.3×10-6) and not time (p=0.11) is significant. Consistent with the overall E-W cline in hunter-gatherer ancestry, genetic distance to Oriente C increases more rapidly with longitude than latitude, although this may also be affected by geographic features. For example, Oriente C shares significantly more drift with the 8,000 year-old 1,400 km distant individual from Loschbour in Luxembourg (Lazaridis et al.,2014), than with the 9,000 year old individual from Vela Spila in Croatia (Mathieson et al.,2018) only 700 km away as shown by the D-statistic (Patterson et al.,2012) D (Mbuti, Oriente C, Vela Spila, Villabruna); Z=3.42. Oriente C’s heterozygosity was slightly lower than Villabruna (14% lower at 1240k transversion sites), but this difference is not significant (bootstrap P=0.12).

Multidimensional scaling of outgroup f3-statistics for Late 531 Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic hunter-gatherers.

Discussion and Conclusion

The robust record of radiocarbon dates proves that they reached Sicily not before 15-14 ka cal. BP, several millennia after the LGM peak. In our opinion, in fact, the hypothesis about an early colonization of Sicily by Aurignacians (Laplace, 1964; Chilardi et al., 1996) must be rejected, on the basis of a recent reinterpretation of the techno-typological features of the lithic industries from Riparo di Fontana Nuova (Martini et al., 2007; Lo Vetro and Martini, 2012; on this topic see also Di Maida et al., 2019).

These analyses have implications for understanding the origin and diffusion of the hunter-gatherers that inhabited Europe during the Late Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic. Our findings indicate that Oriente C shows a strong genetic relationship with Western European Late Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, suggesting that the “Western hunter-gatherers” was a homogeneous population widely distributed in the Central Mediterranean, presumably as a consequence of continuous gene flow among different groups, or a range expansion following the LGM.

The same statistic as in A plotted with geographic position

The South Italian corridor

Once again, a hypothesis based on phylogeography – apart from scarce archaeological and palaeolinguistic data (“Semitic”-like topo-hydronymy and substrates in Europe) – seems to be confirmed step by step. Since the finding of the Villabruna individual of hg. R1b-L754 (likely R1b-V88, like south-eastern European lineages expanded with WHG ancestry), it was quite likely to find out that southern Europe was the origin of the expansion of R1b-V88 into Africa.

The most likely explanation for the presence of “archaic” R1b-V88 subclades among modern Sardinians was, therefore, that they represented a remnant from a Late Upper Palaeolithic/Early Mesolithic population that had not been replaced in subsequent migrations, and thus that the migration of these lineages into Northern Africa and the Green Sahara happened during a period when Italy was connected by a shallower Mediterranean (and more land connections) to Northern Africa.

Likely Late Epigravettian/Mesolithic expansion of R1b-V88 into Northern Africa. See full map.

Nevertheless, the arguments for a quite recent expansion of R1b-V88 through the Mediterranean and into Africa keep being repeated, probably based on ancestry from the few ancient (and many modern) populations that have been investigated to date, a simplistic approach prone to important errors that overarch whole migration models.

For example, in the recent paper by Marcus et al. (2019) the presence of these lineages among ancient Sardinians (from the late 4th millennium BC on) is interpreted as an expansion of R1b-V88 with the Cardial Neolithic based on their ancestry, disregarding the millennia-long gap between these samples and the presence of this haplogroup in Palaeolithic/Mesolithic Northern Iberia and Northern Italy, and the comparatively much earlier splits in the phylogenetic tree and dispersal among African populations.

Afroasiatic and Nostratic

I was asked recently if I really believed that we could reconstruct Proto-Nostratic and connect it with any ancestral population. My answer is simple: until the Chalcolithic – when the whole picture of Indo-Europeans, Uralians, Egyptians or Semites becomes quite clear – we have just very few (linguistic, archaeological, genetic) dots which we would like to connect, and we do so the best we can. The earlier the population and proto-language, the more difficult this task becomes.

NOTE. 1) I tentatively connected hg. R with Nostratic in a previous text – when it appeared that R1a expanded from around Lake Baikal, hence Eurasiatic; R1b from the south with AME-WHG ancestry, hence Afroasiatic; and R2 with Dravidian.

2) After that, I though it was more likely to be connected to AME ancestry and the Middle East, because of the apparent expansion of WHG from south-eastern Europe, and the potential association of Afroasiatic and (Elamo-?)Dravidian to Middle Eastern populations.

3) However, after finding more and more R1b samples expanding through northern Eurasia, spreading through the (then wider) steppe regions; and R1a essentially surviving among other groups in eastern Europe for thousands of years without being associated to significant migrations (like, say, hg. C after the Palaeolithic), it didn’t seem like this division was accurate, hence my most recent version.

But, in essence, it’s all about connecting the dots, and we have very few of them…

Phylogenetic tree from Pagel et al. (2013), partially in agreement with Kortlandt’s view on Eurasiatic. “Consensus phylogenetic tree of Eurasiatic superfamily (A) superimposed on Eurasia and (B) rooted tree with estimated dates of origin of families and of superfamily. (A) Unrooted consensus tree with branch lengths (solid lines) shown to scale and illustrating the correspondence between the tree and the contemporary north-south and east-west geographical positions of these language families. Abbreviations: P (proto) followed by initials of language family: PD, proto-Dravidian; PK, proto-Kartvelian; PU, proto-Uralic; PIE, proto–Indo-European; PA, proto-Altaic; PCK, proto–Chukchi-Kamchatkan; PIY, proto–Inuit-Yupik. The dotted line to PIY extends the inferred branch length into the area in which Inuit-Yupik languages are currently spoken: it is not a measure of divergence. The cross-hatched line to PK indicates that branch has been shortened (compare with B). The branch to proto-Dravidian ends in an area that Dravidian populations are thought to have occupied before the arrival of Indo-Europeans (see main text). (B) Consensus tree rooted using proto-Dravidian as the outgroup. The age at the root is 14.45 ± 1.75 kya (95% CI = 11.72–18.38 kya) or a slightly older 15.61 ± 2.29 kya (95% CI = 11.72–20.40 kya) if the tree is rooted with proto-Kartvelian. The age assumes midpoint rooting along the branch leading to proto-Dravidian (rooting closer to PD would produce an older root, and vice versa), and takes into account uncertainty around proto–Indo-European date of 8,700 ± 544 (SD) y following ref. 35 and the PCK date of 692 ± 67 (SD) y ago.”

In linguistics, I trust traditional linguists who tend to trust other more experimental linguists (like Hyllested or Kortlandt) who consider that – in their experience – an Indo-Uralic and a Eurasiatic phylum can be reconstructed. Similarly, linguists like Kortlandt are apparently (partially) supportive of attempts like that of Allan Bomhard with Nostratic – although almost everyone is critic of the Muscovite school‘s attachment to the Brugmannian reconstruction, stuck in pre-laryngeal Proto-Indo-Anatolian and similar archaisms.

I mostly use Nostratic as a way to give a simplistic ethnolinguistic label to the genetically related prehistoric peoples whose languages we will probably never know. I think it’s becoming clear that the strongest connection right now with the expansion of potential Eurasiatic dialects is offered by ANE-related populations (hence Y-chromosome bottlenecks under hg. R, Q, probably also N), however complicated the reconstruction of that hypothetic community (and its dialectalization) may be.

Therefore, the multiple expansions of lineages more or less closely associated to ANE-related peoples – like R1b-V88 in the case of Afrasian, or R2 in the case of Dravidians – are the easiest to link to the traditionally described Nostratic dialects and their highly hypothetic relationship.

Reconstruction of North African vegetation during past green Sahara periods. Estimated and reconstructed MAP for the Holocene GSP (6–10 kyr BP) projected onto a cross-section along the eastern Sahara (left panel) and map view of reconstructed MAP, vegetation and physiographic elements [7,8,11,45] (right panel). Image from Larrasoaña et al. (2013).

What should be clear to anyone is that the attempt of many modern Afroasiatic speakers to connect their language to their own (or their own community’s main) haplogroups, frequently E and/or J, is flawed for many reasons; it was simplistic in the 2000s, but it is absurd after the advent of ancient DNA investigation and more recent investigation on SNP mutation rates. R1b-V88 should have been on the table of discussions about the expansion of Afroasiatic communities through the Green Sahara long ago, whether one supports a Nostratic phylum or not.

The fact that the role of R1b bottlenecks and expansions in the spread of Afroasiatic is usually not even discussed despite their likely connection with the most recent population expansions through the Green Sahara fitting a reasonable time frame for Proto-Afroasiatic reconstruction, a reasonable geographical homeland, and a compatible dialectal division – unlike many other proposed (E or J) subclades – reveals (once again) a lot about the reasons behind amateur interest in genetics.

Just like seeing the fixation in (and immobility of) recent writings about the role of I1, I2, or (more recently) R1a in the Proto-Indo-European expansion, R1b with Vasconic, or N1c with Proto-Uralic.

NOTE. That evident interest notwithstanding, it is undeniable that we have a much better understanding of the expansions of R1b subclades than other haplogroups, probably due in great part to the easier recovery of ancient DNA from Eurasia (and Europe in particular), for many different – sociopolitical, geographical, technological – reasons. It is quite possible that a more thorough temporal transect of ancient DNA from the Middle East and Africa might radically change our understanding of population movements, especially those related to the Afroasiatic expansion. I am referring in this post to interpretations based on the data we currently have, despite that potential R1b-based bias.


Ancient Sardinia hints at Mesolithic spread of R1b-V88, and Western EEF-related expansion of Vasconic


New preprint Population history from the Neolithic to present on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia: An ancient DNA perspective, by Marcus et al. bioRxiv (2019)

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine, edited for clarity):

On the high frequency of R1b-V88

Our genome-wide data allowed us to assign Y haplogroups for 25 ancient Sardinian individuals. More than half of them consist of R1b-V88 (n=10) or I2-M223 (n=7).

Francalacci et al. (2013) identi fied three major Sardinia-specifi c founder clades based on present-day variation within the haplogroups I2-M26, G2-L91 and R1b-V88, and here we found each of those broader haplogroups in at least one ancient Sardinian individual. Two major present-day Sardinian haplogroups, R1b-M269 and E-M215, are absent.

Compared to other Neolithic and present-day European populations, the number of identi fied R1b-V88 carriers is relatively high.

(…)ancient Sardinian mtDNA haplotypes belong almost exclusively to macro-haplogroups HV (n = 16), JT (n = 17) and U (n = 9), a composition broadly similar to other European Neolithic populations.

Geographic and temporal distribution of R1b-V88 Y-haplotypes in ancient European samples. We plot the geographic position of all ancient samples inferred to carry R1b-V88 equivalent markers. Dates are given as years BCE (means of calibrated 2s radio-carbon dates). Multiple V88 individuals with similar geographic positions are vertically stacked. We additionally color-code the status of the R1b-V88 subclade R1b-V2197, which is found in most present-day African R1b-V88 carriers.

On the origin of a Vasconic-like Paleosardo with the Western EEF

(…) the Neolithic (and also later) ancient Sardinian individuals sit between early Neolithic Iberian and later Copper Age Iberian populations, roughly on an axis that differentiates WHG and EEF populations and embedded in a cluster that additionally includes Neolithic British individuals. This result is also evident in terms of absolute genetic differentiation, with low pairwise FST ~ 0.005 +- 0.002 between Neolithic Sardinian individuals and Neolithic western mainland European populations. Pairwise outgroup-f3 analysis shows a very similar pattern, with the highest values of f3 (i.e. most shared drift) being with Neolithic and Copper Age Iberia, gradually dropping off for temporally and geographically distant populations.

In explicit admixture models (using qpAdm, see Methods) the southern French Neolithic individuals (France-N) are the most consistent with being a single source for Neolithic Sardinia (p ~ 0:074 to reject the model of one population being the direct source of the other); followed by other populations associated with the western Mediterranean Neolithic Cardial Ware expansion.

Principal Components Analysis based on the Human Origins dataset. A: Projection of ancient individuals’ genotypes onto principal component axes de fined by modern Western Eurasians (gray labels).

Pervasive Western Hunter-Gatherer ancestry in Iberian/French/Sardinian population

Similar to western European Neolithic and central European Late Neolithic populations, ancient Sardinian individuals are shifted towards WHG individuals in the top two PCs relative to early Neolithic Anatolians Admixture analysis using qpAdm infers that ancient Sardinian individuals harbour HG ancestry (~ 17%) that is higher than early Neolithic mainland populations (including Iberia, ~ 8%), but lower than Copper Age Iberians (~ 25%) and about the same as Southern French Middle-Neolithic individuals (~ 21%).

Principal Components Analysis based on the Human Origins dataset. B: Zoom into the region most relevant for Sardinian individuals.

Continuity from Sardinia Neolithic through the Nuragic

We found several lines of evidence supporting genetic continuity from the Sardinian Neolithic into the Bronze Age and Nuragic times. Importantly, we observed low genetic differentiation between ancient Sardinian individuals from various time periods.

A qpAdm analysis, which is based on simultaneously testing f-statistics with a number of outgroups and adjusts for correlations, cannot reject a model of Neolithic Sardinian individuals being a direct predecessor of Nuragic Sardinian individuals (…) Our qpAdm analysis further shows that the WHG ancestry proportion, in a model of admixture with Neolithic Anatolia, remains stable at ~17% throughout three ancient time-periods.

Present-day genetic structure in Sardinia reanalyzed with aDNA. A: Scatter plot of the rst two principal components trained on 1577 present-day individuals with grand-parental ancestry from Sardinia. Each individual is labeled with a location if at least 3 of the 4 grandparents were born in the same geographical location (\small” three letter abbreviations); otherwise with \x” or if grand-parental ancestry is missing with \?”. We calculated median PC values for each Sardinian province (large abbreviations). We also projected each ancient Sardinian individual on to the top two PCs (gray points). B/C: We plot f-statistics that test for admixture of modern Sardinian individuals (grouped into provinces) when using Nuragic Sardinian individuals as one source population. Uncertainty ranges depict one standard error (calculated from block bootstrap). Karitiana are used in the f-statistic calculation as a proxy for ANE/Steppe ancestry (Patterson et al., 2012).

Steppe influx in Modern Sardinians

While contemporary Sardinian individuals show the highest affinity towards EEF-associated populations among all of the modern populations, they also display membership with other clusters (Fig. 5). In contrast to ancient Sardinian individuals, present-day Sardinian individuals carry a modest “Steppe-like” ancestry component (but generally less than continental present-day European populations), and an appreciable broadly “eastern Mediterranean” ancestry component (also inferred at a high fraction in other present-day Mediterranean populations, such as Sicily and Greece).


Migration vs. Acculturation models for Aegean Neolithic in Genetics — still depending strongly on Archaeology


Recent paper in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Archaeogenomic analysis of the first steps of Neolithization in Anatolia and the Aegean, by Kılınç et al. (2017).


The Neolithic transition in west Eurasia occurred in two main steps: the gradual development of sedentism and plant cultivation in the Near East and the subsequent spread of Neolithic cultures into the Aegean and across Europe after 7000 cal BCE. Here, we use published ancient genomes to investigate gene flow events in west Eurasia during the Neolithic transition. We confirm that the Early Neolithic central Anatolians in the ninth millennium BCE were probably descendants of local hunter–gatherers, rather than immigrants from the Levant or Iran. We further study the emergence of post-7000 cal BCE north Aegean Neolithic communities. Although Aegean farmers have frequently been assumed to be colonists originating from either central Anatolia or from the Levant, our findings raise alternative possibilities: north Aegean Neolithic populations may have been the product of multiple westward migrations, including south Anatolian emigrants, or they may have been descendants of local Aegean Mesolithic groups who adopted farming. These scenarios are consistent with the diversity of material cultures among Aegean Neolithic communities and the inheritance of local forager know-how. The demographic and cultural dynamics behind the earliest spread of Neolithic culture in the Aegean could therefore be distinct from the subsequent Neolithization of mainland Europe.

The analysis of the paper highlights two points regarding the process of Neolithisation in the Aegean, which is essential to ascertain the impact of later Indo-European migrations of Proto-Anatolian and Proto-Greek and other Palaeo-Balkan speakers(texts partially taken verbatim from the paper):

  • The observation that the two central Anatolian populations cluster together to the exclusion of Neolithic populations of south Levant or of Iran restates the conclusion that farming in central Anatolia in the PPN was established by local groups instead of immigrants, which is consistent with the described cultural continuity between central Anatolian Epipalaeolithic and Aceramic communities. This reiterates the earlier conclusion that the early Neolithisation in the primary zone was largely a process of cultural interaction instead of gene flow.
Principal component analysis (PCA) with modern and ancient genomes. The eigenvectors were calculated using 50 modern west Eurasian populations, onto which genome data from ancient individuals were projected. The gray circles highlight the four ancient gene pools of west Eurasia. Modern-day individuals are shown as gray points. In the Near East, Pre-Neolithic (Epipaleolithic/Mesolithic) and Neolithic individuals genetically cluster by geography rather than by cultural context. For instance, Neolithic individuals of Anatolia cluster to the exclusion of individuals from the Levant or Iran). In Europe, genetic clustering reflects cultural context but not geography: European early Neolithic individuals are genetically distinct from European pre-Neolithic individuals but tightly cluster with Anatolians. PPN: Pre-Pottery/Aceramic Neolithic, PN: Pottery Neolithic, Tepecik: Tepecik-Çiftlik (electronic supplementary material, table S1 lists the number of SNPs per ancient individual).
  • The realisation that there are still two possibilities regarding the question of whether Aegean Neolithisation (post-7000 cal BC) involved similar acculturation processes, or was driven by migration similar to Neolithisation in mainland Europe — a long-standing debate in Archaeology:
    1. Migration from Anatolia to the Aegean: the Aegean Neolithisation must have involved replacement of a local, WHG-related Mesolithic population by incoming easterners. Central Anatolia or south Anatolia / north Levant (of which there is no data) are potential origins of the components observed. Notably, the north Aegeans – Revenia (ca. 6438-6264 BC) and Barcın (ca. 6500-6200 BC) – show higher diversity than the central Anatolians, and the population size of Aegeans was larger than that of central Anatolians. The lack of WHG in later samples indicates that they must have been fully replaced by the eastern migrant farmers.
    2. Adoption of Neolithic elements by local foragers: Alternatively, the Aegean coast Mesolithic populations may have been part of the Anatolian-related gene pool that occupied the Aegean seaboard during the Early Holocene, in an “out-of-the-Aegean hypothesis. Following the LGM, Aegean emigrants would have dispersed into central Anatolia and established populations that eventually gave rise to the local Epipalaeolithic and later Neolithic communities, in line with the earliest direct evidence for human presence in central Anatolia ca 14 000 cal BCE
  • On the archaeological evidence (excerpt):

    Instead of a single-sourced colonization process, the Aegean Neolithization may thus have flourished upon already existing coastal and interior interaction networks connecting Aegean foragers with the Levantine and central Anatolian PPN populations, and involved multiple cultural interaction events from its early steps onward [16,20,64,74]. This wide diversity of cultural sources and the potential role of local populations in Neolithic development may set apart Aegean Neolithization from that in mainland Europe. While Mesolithic Aegean genetic data are awaited to fully resolve this issue, researchers should be aware of the possibility that the initial emergence of the Neolithic elements in the Aegean, at least in the north Aegean, involved cultural and demographic dynamics different than those in European Neolithization.

    Featured image, from the article: “Summary of the data analyzed in this study. (a) Map of west Eurasia showing the geographical locations and (b) timeline showing the time period (years BCE) of ancient individuals investigated in the study. Blue circles: individuals from pre-Neolithic context; red triangles: individuals from Neolithic contexts”.