Early Upper Paleolithic sites in the Danube catchment have been put forward as evidence that the river was an important conduit for modern humans during their initial settlement of Europe. Central to this model is the Carpathian Basin, a region covering most of the Middle Danube. As the archaeological record of this region is still poorly understood, this paper aims to provide a contextual assessment of the Carpathian Basin’s geological and paleoenvironmental archives, starting with the late Upper Pleistocene. Subsequently, it compiles early Upper Paleolithic data from the region to provide a synchronic appraisal of the Aurignacian archaeological evidence. It then uses this data to test whether the relative absence of early Upper Paleolithic sites is obscured by a taphonomic bias. Finally, it reviews current knowledge of the Carpathian Basin’s archaeological record and concludes that, while it cannot reject the Danube corridor hypothesis, further (geo)archaeological work is required to understand the link between the Carpathian Basin and Central and Southeastern Europe.
Though the Carpathian Basin record currently supports the idea of an exogenous, early entrance of the early Upper Paleolithic into the Carpathian Basin unrelated to any of the preceding MP or transitional industries, the dispersal across the Carpathian Basin is not suggestive of rapid demic expansion, as is evidenced by the relatively late hybridization of the Peștera cu Oase fossil and implied by persistent Mousterian technological elements (Fu et al. 2015; Horvath 2009; Noiret 2005).
This begs the question of where the makers of the early Upper Paleolithic in the Carpathian Basin came from. Aside from a handful of Aurignacian sites (e.g. Bacho Kiro, Temnata) and Kozarnika, whose link to the Aurignacian remains tenuous, no other sites directly connect the Carpathian Basin Aurignacian to the south in the Balkans. Additionally, Anatolia has also to provide empirical evidence of a connection between Southwestern Europe and the early hominin technocomplexes of the Levant. Therefore, a western source for the Carpathian Basin early Upper Paleolithic is conceivable, especially considering the early Willendorf dates which, if correct, pre-date any of the evidence in the Carpathian Basin. If the Danube was as easy a conduit as has been suggested, it is equally likely that it may have seen hominin movement in the opposite direction (Sitlivy et al. 2014). Indeed, increasing genetic and archaeological evidence (Adler et al. 2008; Anikovich et al. 2007; López et al. 2016) supports the idea that the earliest modern humans coming from the Middle East and into Europe may have bypassed Southeastern Europe (at least overland), opting for a route running through the Caucasus, dispersing east through the East European Plain and then north of the Carpathians.
The recent reanalysis of Central European early Upper Paleolithic assemblages and possibly Initial Upper Paleolithic sensu lato finds farther east in the geographically connected Moravian Plains (Bohunician) suggests that early modern humans were present in Central Europe far sooner than previously recognized (Müller et al. 2011; Nigst et al. 2014; Richter et al. 2008, 2009). This notion could lead to a major modification in our understanding of the origin and cultural ontogeny of the Aurignacian technocomplex (Sitlivy et al. 2014).
This suggests that while hominins were undoubtedly present within the Middle Danube catchment in the late Upper Pleistocene, it is currently difficult to tell from the archaeological record whether they entered the Carpathian Basin on direct ‘highways’, in waves (Hublin 2015), or more piecemeal; furthermore, the evidence is too sparse to suggest a directional trajectory. Indeed, the gap in the Danube record suggests that the situation may be more complicated than has previously been thought. Furthermore, climatic reconstructions, illustrated by advances in loess stratigraphy, faunal/floral records and geochemistry, suggest a necessary diversion from the rugged karstic regions of the basin that may have been more familiar hunting areas for previous (Neanderthal) populations. This may have resulted in more frequent or seasonal use of the lowlands within the earlier parts of MIS 3 that may have prompted subsequent modifications in hominin subsistence behavior. A prolonged/intense modern human presence in the Carpathian Basin throughout the late Upper Pleistocene is testified to by a higher frequency of lithic sites with increased artifact density. Increased sedimentation rates in the later part of the Pleistocene may have also helped to offset the palimpsest effect that might have skewed the record.
We already knew that expanding East Bell Beakers had received influence from a population similar to the available Globular Amphorae culture samples.
Without Yamna settlers, but with Yamna Ukraine and East Bell Beaker samples, including an admixed Yamna Bulgaria sample (from Olalde & Mathieson 2017, and then with their Nature 2018 papers), the most likely interpretation was that Yamna settlers had received GAC ancestry probably during their migration through the Balkans, before turning into East Bell Beakers. However, some comments still supported that it was Corded Ware migrants the ones behind the formation of East Bell Beakers. I couldn’t understand it.
Now we have (with Wang et al. 2018) Yamna settlers (identical to other Yamna groups and Afanasevo migrants) and GAC-like peoples coexisting with them in Hungary, with a Late Chalcolithic Yamna sample from Hungary showing a greater contribution from GAC. However, I still read discussions on Yamna settlers receiving GAC admixture from Corded Ware in Eastern Europe, from GAC in the Dnieper-Dniester area, in Budzhak/Usatovo, etc. I can’t understand this, either.
I will post here the data we have, with the simplest maps and images showing the simplest possible model. No more long paragraphs.
NOTE. All this data does not mean that this model is certain, especially because we don’t have direct access to the samples. But it is the simplest and most likely one. Sometimes 2+2=4. Even if it turns out later to be false.
EDIT (30 MAY 2018): In fact, as I commented in the first post about these samples, there is a Yamna LCA/EBA sample probably from Late Yamna (in the North Pontic steppe, west of the Catacomb culture), which shows GAC-like contribution. However, this admixture is lesser than that of Hungary LCA/EBA1 sample, and both Yamna groups (Hungary and steppe) were probably already more sedentary, which also supports different contributions from nearby local GAC-like groups to each region, rather than maintained long-range internal genetic contributions from a single source near the steppe…
The CWC outlier from Esperstedt
I already said that my initial interpretation of the Esperstedt outlier, dated ca. 2430 BC, as due to a late contribution directly from the steppe (i.e. from long-range contacts between late Corded Ware groups from Europe and late groups from the steppe) was probably wrong, seeing how (in Olalde et al. 2017) early East Bell Beaker samples from Hungary and Central Europe clustered closely to this individual.
Now we see that fully ‘Yamnaya-like’ Yamna settlers lived in Hungary probably for two or three centuries ca. 2900-2600 BC, and the absorption of known (or unknown) Yamna vanguard groups found up to Saxony-Anhalt before 2600 BC would be enough to justify the genomic findings of this individual.
An outlier it is, then. But probably from admixture with nearby Yamna-like people.
The most interesting of the local people is the occupant of grave 12, which is the earliest grave in the kurgan and the main statistical range of its radiocarbon date clearly predates the arrival of the western Yamnaya groups c. 3000 BC. This is also confirmed by the burial rite, which is not typical for the Yamnaya (Dani 2011: 29–33; Heyd in press), although some heterogeneity may apply in Yamnaya communities too. The migrant group, graves nos. 4, 7, 9 and 11, all occupy late stratigraphic positions in the mound, and have radiocarbon dates in the second quarter of the third millennium BC. It is also noteworthy that they are all adult or mature men. The contextual data, their physical distribution over the space of the whole kurgan, and the variety of burial practices, indicate several generations of burials. The cultural attributes of this group are summarised in Figure 5. Overall, their closest match lies in the Livezile group from the eastern and southern Apuseni Mountains, which is also the likely place of origin of the buried persons.
The key question is, what cultural process could be responsible for attracting these men from their homeland to the Great Hungarian Plain, over several generations? Their sex and age uniformity indicate they are a social sub-set within a larger group, implying that only a portion of their society was on the move. Exogamy can probably be excluded, since one would expect more women than men to move in prehistoric times; not to mention the distance of more than 200km between the places of potential origin and burial.
One hypothesis would see these men involved in the exchange of goods, with long-term relations between the mountain and steppe communities. Normally living in, or next to, the Apuseni, these men would journey for weeks into the plain, returning to the same places and people over many decades. Ethnographic examples of such travels to exchange objects and ideas, and perhaps people, are numerous (e.g. Helms 1988). However, the child’s (grave 7a) local isotopic signature would remain unexplained, and one has to wonder for how many generations an exchange continues for four men to die near the Őrhalom.
A second hypothesis is essentially an economic model of transhumance, with livestock passing the winter and spring in the milder regions of the Great Hungarian Plain, and returning to higher pastures in the warmer months (Arnold & Greenfield 2006). Such systems can endure for centuries, provided the social relations underpinning them are stable. This has the advantage of accounting for relatively long periods of time spent away from home, as herdsmen guarded their animals, and perhaps some women and their children came too, which would account for the child’s presence, and the pottery relations of the Livezile group. Furthermore, regular visits to a region would increase the likelihood of Livezile transhumant herders becoming integrated locally. The second quarter of the third millennium BC was a period when Yamnaya ideology, and thus its internal coherence, might have already diminished. This would likely have resulted in a weakened grip by Yamnaya people on pastures and territory, consequently allowing Livezile herders, and potentially others, to step in and take over locally, perhaps first on a seasonal basis and then permanently.
On West Yamna settlers in Hungary
By disclosing very interesting information on (yet unpublished) Yamna samples from Hungary, the latest preprint from the Reich Lab has rendered irrelevant – in a rather surprising turn of events – (what I expected would be) future discussions on West Yamna settlers potentially sharing a similar ancestry with Baltic Late Neolithic / Corded Ware settlers (see here for more details).
Interesting excerpts regarding the tight cluster formed by all Yamna samples:
Individuals from the North Caucasian steppe associated with the Yamnaya cultural formation (5300-4400 BP, 3300-2400 calBCE) appear genetically almost identical to previously reported Yamnaya individuals from Kalmykia20 immediately to the north, the middle Volga region19, 27,Ukraine and Hungary, and to other Bronze Age individuals from the Eurasian steppes who share the characteristic ‘steppe ancestry’ profile as a mixture of EHG and CHG/Iranian ancestry23, 28. These individuals form a tight cluster in PCA space (Figure 2) and can be shown formally to be a mixture by significantly negative admixture f3-statistics of the form f3(EHG, CHG; target) (Supplementary Fig. 3).
Using qpAdm with Globular Amphora as a proximate surrogate population (assuming that a related group was the source of the Anatolian farmer-related ancestry), we estimated the contribution of Anatolian farmer-related ancestry into Yamnaya and other steppe groups. We find that Yamnaya individuals from the Volga region (Yamnaya Samara) have 13.2±2.7% and Yamnaya individuals in Hungary 17.1±4.1% Anatolian farmer-related ancestry (Fig.4; Supplementary Table 18)– statistically indistinguishable proportions.
Before this paper, we had the solidest anthropological models backed by Y-DNA against conflicting data from certain statistical tools applied to a few samples (which some used to contradict what was mainstream in Academia).
Today, we have everything – including statistical tools – showing a genetically homogeneous, Late PIE-speaking late Khvalynsk/Yamna community expanding into its known branches, confirming what was described using traditional anthropological disciplines:
Late Khvalynsk expanding into Afanasevo ca. 3300-3000 BC with an archaic Late PIE dialect, which was attested much later as Tocharian;
and now also Yamna settlers: those in Hungary admixing (probably ca. 2800-2500 BC) with the local population to form North-West Indo-European-speaking East Bell Beakers; those from the Balkans forming other IE-speaking Balkan cultures, including the peoples that admixed in Greece, as seen in Mycenaeans.
I recently wrote about the Indo-European Corded Ware Theory of Kristian Kristiansen and his workgroup, a sort of “Danish school”, whose aim is to prove a direct, long-lasting interaction between the North Pontic steppe and east European cultures during the Late Neolithic, which supposedly gave rise to a Late Indo-European-speaking Corded Ware culture. That is, a sort of renewed Kurgan model; or, more exactly, Kurgan models, since there is no single one preferred right now.
More recently, he has offered (in collaboration with his wife, Dorcas R. Brown) a tentative original connection Yamna -> Corded Ware in the Lesser Poland region, in their paper Molecular archaeology and Indo-European linguistics: Impressions from new data. It seemed to be based merely on recent genetic finds, and on the fact that Corded Ware remains appear to be oldest in that region, according to radiocarbon analysis.
Instead of waiting for the current storm of genetic papers (and their misinformation) to pass, and see what remains, Anthony is now supporting a different model than the one that made him popular, risking the good name he has earned in Archaeology and in popular science texts – in spite of initial setbacks due to the prevailing criticisms of Indo-European migration models.
Some excerpts (emphasis mine):
A Yamnaya migration from the steppes up the Danube valley as far as Hungary was already accepted by many archaeologists (Fig. 2.2). Hundreds of Yamnaya-type kurgans and dozens of cemeteries have been recognized by archaeologists in the lower Danube valley, in Bulgaria and Romania; and in the middle Danube valley, in eastern Hungary, with radiocarbon dates that began about 3000–2800 BCE and extended to about 2700–2600 BCE (Ecsedy 1979; Sherratt 1986; Boyadziev 1995; Harrison and Heyd 2007; Heyd 2012; Frînculeasa et al. 2015). The migration stream that created these intrusive cemeteries now can be seen to have continued from eastern Hungary across the Carpathians into southern Poland, where the earliest material traits of the Corded Ware horizon appeared (Furholt 2003). Corded Ware sites appeared in Denmark by 2800–2700 BCE, probably within 100–200 years after the first Yamnaya migrants entered the lower Danube valley. This surprisingly rapid migration introduced genetic traits such as the R1a and R1b Y-chromosome haplogroups and a substantial element of ANE (Ancient North Eurasian) ancestry that remain characteristic of most northern and western Europeans today.
The oldest radiocarbon dates from Corded Ware sites occur in southern Poland (upper Vistula) and north-central Poland (Kujavia), and this was seen as the region where the early networking of amphorae styles from Globular Amphorae and axe types from Scandinavia began. The genetic evidence shows a somewhat different picture: the Corded Ware people were largely immigrants whose ancestors came from the steppes (probably immediately from eastern Hungary), but they quickly adopted local material traits in amphorae and axe types that obscured their foreign origins. Middle Neolithic northern European populations composed of admixed WHG/EEF survived but were largely excluded from Corded Ware cemeteries, and from marriage into the Corded Ware population. Even centuries after the initial migration the Corded Ware population at Esperstedt, dated 2500–2400 BCE, still exhibited 70–80% Yamnaya genes, although individual variations in the extent of local admixture were apparent. Intermarriage with the surviving local population was more frequent during the ensuing Bell Beaker period. However, the resurgence is more visible in mtDNA than in Y-DNA (Szécsényi-Nagy et al. 2015), suggesting that men of the older EEF heritage were disadvantaged more than women.
Settlements were more permanent before the Corded Ware migration, and remained so among the Globular Amphorae people, who continued to create more localized site-and-cemetery groups in the same landscape with the more mobile immigrants. Afterward, during the Bell Beaker period, when local genetic ancestry rebounded and the population became more admixed, settlements again were more permanent. The Corded Ware culture introduced both a large, steppe-derived population and an unusually mobile form of pastoral economy that was a regional economic anomaly, but nevertheless survived in varying forms for centuries before the regional economic pattern was re-established. A steppe language certainly accompanied this demographic and economic shift. As we have seen above, there are good independent reasons (loans with Uralic and South Caucasian) to think that PIE was spoken in the steppes. It is likely that the steppe language introduced between 3000–2500 BCE was a late (post-Anatolian) form of PIE and survived and evolved into the later northern IE languages.
So, to sum up the new developments of Anthony’s preferred model:
Abandonment of the multiple cultural diffusion models from Yamna into Corded Ware, i.e. Pre-Germanic (in the Usatovo culture) and Pre-Balto-Slavic (in the Middle Dnieper culture).
The only potential Yamna connection with Corded Ware in Archaeology must come from Yamna migrants in the Carpathian basin. Therefore, R1a must come from Hungarian settlements.
Corded Ware cultures from Northern Europe, from roughly 2800 BC, must come from Yamna settlers of the Carpathian basin.
Esperstedt is a great example of Yamnaya genes, and of the mobility (and lack of intermarriage) of Corded Ware peoples centuries, after their migration from Yamna settlers in Hungary.
Corded Ware peoples formed and began their migrationmuch earlier than Yamna settlers arrived in the Carpathian Basin. Compare e.g. the Late Neolithic sample from Latvia (dated ca. 2885 BC) with steppe ancestry attributed to Corded Ware, or the early appearance of east European cultures like Fatyanovo-Balanovo or Abashevo. Also, known Yamna migration routes don’t include these proposed population expansions.
I have already written about the Esperstedt outlier, and why its definition as an outlier should have been clearly made to avoid this kind of misinterpretations…
With each new genetic paper it is less and less likely that many individuals of Y-DNA haplogroup R1a, and especially R1a-Z645 (if any at all), will appear associated with Yamna, either in the Pontic-Caspian steppe or in western settlements (at least clearly belonging to Yamna, Balkan EBA, or Bell Beaker cultures), which will make the life of this new Indo-European Corded Ware Theory model still shorter than could be a priori expected for any archaeological model.
I would say it is a shame that some geneticists are misleading good archaeologists into so many different wrong models, but I guess it is only fair to blame authors for what they write, not whom or what they trusted to write…
I think there is much more to be said about the interaction among Neolithic cultures from the steppe (viz. Sredni Stog and Khvalynsk), than about the Yamna migration, and Anthony was in a better position to judge this. Right now, it seems that other researchers like Rassamakin or Ivanova are taking the lead in the research of Neolithic cultures from the steppe, while Heyd or Prescott are taking the lead in the explanation of Yamna -> Bell Beaker migrations and their connection with the expansion of Late Indo-European languages.
#EDIT (December 18 2017): Just to be clear, Anthony’s new Indo-European Corded Ware Theory model in Archaeology would be compatible with the development and expansion of a North-West Indo-European dialect of Late Indo-European in Linguistics (which is my main source of disagreement with other recent models). In fact, Anthony’s new model could explain the different nature of Balto-Slavic, being adopted by peoples of mainly R1a-Z645 subclades of Lesser Poland – from Yamna migrants of R1b-L23 subclades – , and later influencing Pre-Germanicbrought by Bell Beakers to Scandinavia, so in that sense it could offer some light to certain controversial linguistic aspects. See Corded Ware Substrate Theory for more on Germanic and Balto-Slavic similarities based on a common, intermediate substrate.
What I am criticising with this post is that the model seems to rely heavily (in fact, almost solely) on what some geneticists (and especially amateurs, fanboys of specific haplogroups and/or admixture components) are selling about the ‘Yamnaya component’ (and thus the assumption of a common migration of peoples of R1a-Z645 and R1b-L23 subclades), something which is – to say the least – highly controversial today. Instead of departing from Archaeology (his field) to try and make sense of what others are saying, he seems to be abandoning his own migration models and adopting one compatible with genetic studies of 2015-2016 made by laymen in Indo-European studies, who based their conclusions on their own new methods, applied to a few scattered samples. These new IECWT proponents are thus in turn giving still more reasons for these geneticists to support wrong assumptions in future studies, by relying on any of these new potential archaeological scenarios. And so on and on it goes…