“Steppe ancestry” step by step: Khvalynsk, Sredni Stog, Repin, Yamna, Corded Ware


Wang et al. (2018) is obviously a game changer in many aspects. I have already written about the upcoming Yamna Hungary samples, about the new Steppe_Eneolithic and Caucasus Eneolithic keystones, and about the upcoming Greece Neolithic samples with steppe ancestry.

An interesting aspect of the paper, hidden among so many relevant details, is a clearer picture of how the so-called Yamnaya or steppe ancestry evolved from Samara hunter-gatherers to Yamna nomadic pastoralists, and how this ancestry appeared among Proto-Corded Ware populations.

Image modified from Wang et al. (2018). Marked are in orange: equivalent Steppe_Maykop ADMIXTURE; in red, approximate limit of Anatolia_Neolithic ancestry found in Yamna populations; in blue, Corded Ware-related groups. “Modelling results for the Steppe and Caucasus cluster. Admixture proportions based on (temporally and geographically) distal and proximal models, showing additional Anatolian farmer-related ancestry in Steppe groups as well as additional gene flow from the south in some of the Steppe groups as well as the Caucasus groups.”

Please note: arrows of “ancestry movement” in the following PCAs do not necessarily represent physical population movements, or even ethnolinguistic change. To avoid misinterpretations, I have depicted arrows with Y-DNA haplogroup migrations to represent the most likely true ethnolinguistic movements. Admixture graphics shown are from Wang et al. (2018), and also (the K12) from Mathieson et al. (2018).

1. Samara to Early Khvalynsk

The so-called steppe ancestry was born during the Khvalynsk expansion through the steppes, probably through exogamy of expanding elite clans (eventually all R1b-M269 lineages) originally of Samara_HG ancestry. The nearest group to the ANE-like ghost population with which Samara hunter-gatherers admixed is represented by the Steppe_Eneolithic / Steppe_Maykop cluster (from the Northern Caucasus Piedmont).

Steppe_Eneolithic samples, of R1b1 lineages, are probably expanded Khvalynsk peoples, showing thus a proximate ancestry of an Early Eneolithic ghost population of the Northern Caucasus. Steppe_Maykop samples represent a later replacement of this Steppe_Eneolithic population – and/or a similar population with further contribution of ANE-like ancestry – in the area some 1,000 years later.


This is what Steppe_Maykop looks like, different from Steppe_Eneolithic:


NOTE. This admixture shows how different Steppe_Maykop is from Steppe_Eneolithic, but in the different supervised ADMIXTURE graphics below Maykop_Eneolithic is roughly equivalent to Eneolithic_Steppe (see orange arrow in ADMIXTURE graphic above). This is useful for a simplified analysis, but actual differences between Khvalynsk, Sredni Stog, Afanasevo, Yamna and Corded Ware are probably underestimated in the analyses below, and will become clearer in the future when more ancestral hunter-gatherer populations are added to the analysis.

2. Early Khvalynsk expansion

We have direct data of Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka-like populations thanks to Khvalynsk and Steppe_Eneolithic samples (although I’ve used the latter above to represent the ghost Caucasus population with which Samara_HG admixed).

We also have indirect data. First, there is the PCA with outliers:


Second, we have data from north Pontic Ukraine_Eneolithic samples (see next section).

Third, there is the continuity of late Repin / Afanasevo with Steppe_Eneolithic (see below).

3. Proto-Corded Ware expansion

It is unclear if R1a-M459 subclades were continuously in the steppe and resurged after the Khvalynsk expansion, or (the most likely option) they came from the forested region of the Upper Dnieper area, possibly from previous expansions there with hunter-gatherer pottery.

Supporting the latter is the millennia-long continuity of R1b-V88 and I2a2 subclades in the north Pontic Mesolithic, Neolithic, and Early Eneolithic Sredni Stog culture, until ca. 4500 BC (and even later, during the second half).

Only at the end of the Early Eneolithic with the disappearance of Novodanilovka (and beginning of the steppe ‘hiatus’ of Rassamakin) is R1a to be found in Ukraine again (after disappearing from the record some 2,000 years earlier), related to complex population movements in the north Pontic area.

NOTE. In the PCA, a tentative position of Novodanilovka closer to Anatolia_Neolithic / Dzudzuana ancestry is selected, based on the apparent cline formed by Ukraine_Eneolithic samples, and on the position and ancestry of Sredni Stog, Yamna, and Corded Ware later. A good alternative would be to place Novodanilovka still closer to the Balkan outliers (i.e. Suvorovo), and a source closer to EHG as the ancestry driven by the migration of R1a-M417.


The first sample with steppe ancestry appears only after 4250 BC in the forest-steppe, centuries after the samples with steppe ancestry from the Northern Caucasus and the Balkans, which points to exogamy of expanding R1a-M417 lineages with the remnants of the Novodanilovka population.


4. Repin / Early Yamna expansion

We don’t have direct data on early Repin settlers. But we do have a very close representative: Afanasevo, a population we know comes directly from the Repin/late Khvalynsk expansion ca. 3500/3300 BC (just before the emergence of Early Yamna), and which shows fully Steppe_Eneolithic-like ancestry.


Compared to this eastern Repin expansion that gave Afanasevo, the late Repin expansion to the west ca. 3300 BC that gave rise to the Yamna culture was one of colonization, evidenced by the admixture with north Pontic (Sredni Stog-like) populations, no doubt through exogamy:


This admixture is also found (in lesser proportion) in east Yamna groups, which supports the high mobility and exogamy practices among western and eastern Yamna clans, not only with locals:


5. Corded Ware

Corded Ware represents a quite homogeneous expansion of a late Sredni Stog population, compatible with the traditional location of Proto-Corded Ware peoples in the steppe-forest/forest zone of the Dnieper-Dniester region.


We don’t have a comparison with Ukraine_Eneolithic or Corded Ware samples in Wang et al. (2018), but we do have proximate sources for Abashevo, when compared to the Poltavka population (with which it admixed in the Volga-Ural steppes): Sintashta, Potapovka, Srubna (with further Abashevo contribution), and Andronovo:


The two CWC outliers from the Baltic show what I thought was an admixture with Yamna. However, given the previous mixture of Eneolithic_Steppe in north Pontic steppe-forest populations, this elevated “steppe ancestry” found in Baltic_LN (similar to west Yamna) seems rather an admixture of Baltic sub-Neolithic peoples with a north Pontic Eneolithic_Steppe-like population. Late Repin settlers also admixed with a similar population during its colonization of the north Pontic area, hence the Baltic_LN – west Yamna similarities.

NOTE. A direct admixture with west Yamna populations through exogamy by the ancestors of this Baltic population cannot be ruled out yet (without direct access to more samples), though, because of the contacts of Corded Ware with west Yamna settlers in the forest-steppe regions.


A similar case is found in the Yamna outlier from Mednikarovo south of the Danube. It would be absurd to think that Yamna from the Balkans comes from Corded Ware (or vice versa), just because the former is closer in the PCA to the latter than other Yamna samples. The same error is also found e.g. in the Corded Ware → Bell Beaker theory, because of their proximity in the PCA and their shared “steppe ancestry”. All those theories have been proven already wrong.

NOTE. A similar fallacy is found in potential Sintashta→Mycenaean connections, where we should distinguish statistically that result from an East/West Yamna + Balkans_BA admixture. In fact, genetic links of Mycenaeans with west Yamna settlers prove this (there are some related analyses in Anthrogenica, but the site is down at this moment). To try to relate these two populations (separated more than 1,000 years before Sintashta) is like comparing ancient populations to modern ones, without the intermediate samples to trace the real anthropological trail of what is found…Pure numbers and wishful thinking.


Yamna and Corded Ware show a similar “steppe ancestry” due to convergence. I have said so many times (see e.g. here). This was clear long ago, just by looking at the Y-chromosome bottlenecks that differentiate them – and Tomenable noticed this difference in ADMIXTURE from the supplementary materials in Mathieson et al. (2017), well before Wang et al. (2018).

This different stock stems from (1) completely different ancestral populations + (2) different, long-lasting Y-chromosome bottlenecks. Their similarities come from the two neighbouring cultures admixing with similar populations.

If all this does not mean anything, and each lab was going to support some pre-selected archaeological theories from the 1960s or the 1980s, coupled with outdated linguistic models no matter what – Anthony’s model + Ringe’s glottochronological tree of the early 2000s in the Reich Lab; and worse, Kristiansen’s CWC-IE + Germano-Slavonic models of the 1940s in the Copenhagen group – , I have to repeat my question again:

What’s (so much published) ancient DNA useful for, exactly?


Dzudzuana, Sidelkino, and the Caucasus contribution to the Pontic-Caspian steppe


It has been known for a long time that the Caucasus must have hosted many (at least partially) isolated populations, probably helped by geographical boundaries, setting it apart from open Eurasian areas.

David Reich writes in his book the following about India:

The genetic data told a clear story. Around a third of Indian groups experienced population bottlenecks as strong or stronger than the ones that occurred among Finns or Ashkenazi Jews. We later confirmed this finding in an even larger dataset that we collected working with Thangaraj: genetic data from more than 250 jati groups spread throughout India (…)

Rather than an invention of colonialism as Dirks suggested, long-term endogamy as embodied in India today in the institution of caste has been overwhelmingly important for millennia. (…)

The Han Chinese are truly a large population. They have been mixing freely for thousands of years. In contrast, there are few if any Indian groups that are demographically very large, and the degree of genetic differentiation among Indian jati groups living side by side in the same village is typically two to three times higher than the genetic differentiation between northern and southern Europeans. The truth is that India is composed of a large number of small populations.

There is little doubt now, based on findings spanning thousands of years, that the Mesolithic and Neolithic Caucasus hosted various very small populations, even if the ancestral components may be reduced to the few known to date (such as ANE, EHG, AME*, ENA, CHG, and other “deep” ancestral components).

NOTE. I will call the ancestral component of Dzudzuana/Anatolian hunter-gatherers Ancient Middle Easterner (AME), to give a clear idea of its likely extension during the Late Upper Palaeolithic, and to avoid using the more simplistic Dzudzuana, unless it is useful to mention these specific local samples.

Image modified from Lazaridis et al. (2018), including Caucasus, Don-Volga-Ural, and North Pontic Mesolithic-Neolithic populations. “Ancient West Eurasian population structure. (a) Geographical distribution of key ancient West Eurasian populations. (b) Temporal distribution of key ancient West Eurasian populations (approximate date in ky BP). (c) PCA of key ancient West Eurasians, including additional populations (shown with grey shells), in the space of outgroup f4-statistics (Methods).”

Genetic labs have a strong fixation with ancestry. I guess the use of complex statistical methods gives professionals and laymen alike the feeling of dealing with “Science”, as opposed to academic fields where you have to interpret data. I think language reveals a lot about the way people think, and the fact that ancestral components are called ‘lineages’ – while not wrong per se – is a clear symptom of the lack of interest in the true lineages: Y-DNA haplogroups.

Y-DNA bottlenecks

It has become quite clear that male-biased migrations are often the ones which can be confidently followed for actual population movements and ethnolinguistic identification, at least until the Iron Age. The frequently used Palaeolithic clusters offer a clear example of why ancestry does not represent what some people believe: They merely give a basic idea of sizeable population replacements by distant peoples.

Both concepts are important: sizeable and distant peoples. For example, during the Upper Palaeolithic in Europe there was a sizeable population replacement of the Aurignacian Goyet cluster by the Gravettian Vestonice cluster (probably from populations of far eastern Russia) coupled with the arrival of haplogroup I, although during the thousands of years that this material culture lasted, the previously expanded C1a2 lineages did not disappear, and there were probably different resurgence and admixture events.

Haplogroup I certainly expanded with the Gravettian culture to Iberia, where the Goyet ancestry did not change much – probably because of male-driven migrations -, to the extent that during the Magdalenian expansions haplogroup I expanded with an ancestry closer to Goyet, in what is called a ‘resurge’ of the Goyet cluster – even though there is a clear replacement of male lines.

The Villabruna (WHG) cluster is another good example. It probably spread with haplogroup R1b-L754, which – based on the extra ‘East Asian’ affinity of some samples and on modern samples from the Middle East – came probably from the east through a southern route, and not too long before the expansion of WHG likely from around the Black Sea, although this is still unclear. The finding of haplogroup I in samples of mostly WHG ancestry could confuse people that do not care about timing, sub-structured populations, and gene flow.

Image from David Reich’s Who We Are and How We Got Here. Having migrated out of Africa and the Near East, modern human pioneer populations spread throughout Eurasia (1). By at least thirty-nine thousand years ago, one group founded a lineage of European hunter-gatherers that persisted largely uninterrupted for more than twenty thousand years (2). Eventually, groups derived from an eastern branch of this founding population of European huntergatherers spread west (3), displaced previous groups, and were eventually themselves pushed out of northern Europe by the spread of glacial ice, shown at its maximum extent (top right). As the glaciers receded, western Europe was repeopled from the southwest (4) by a population that had managed to persist for tens of thousands of years and was related to an approximately thirty-five-thousand-year old individual from far western Europe. A later human migration, following the first strong warming period, had an even larger impact, with a spread from the southeast (5) that not only transformed the population of western Europe but also homogenized the populations of Europe and the Near East. At a single site—Goyet Caves in Belgium—ancient DNA from individuals spread over twenty thousand years reflects these transformations, with representatives from the Aurignacian, Gravettian, and Magdalenian periods.

NOTE. If you don’t understand why ‘clusters’ that span thousands of years don’t really matter for the many Palaeolithic population expansions that certainly happened among hunter-gatherers in Europe, just take a look at what happened with Bell Beakers expanding from Yamna into western Europe within 500 years.

If we don’t thread carefully when talking about population migrations, these terms are bound to confuse people. Just as the fixation on “steppe ancestry” – which marks the arrival in Chalcolithic Europe of peoples from the Pontic-Caspian region – has confused a lot of researchers to this day.

When I began to write about the Indo-European demic diffusion model, my concern was to find a single spot where a North-West Indo-European proto-language could have expanded from ca. 2000 BC (our most common guesstimate). Based on the 2015 papers, and in spite of their conclusions, I thought it had become clear that Corded Ware was not it, and it was rather Bell Beakers. I assumed that Uralic was spoken to the north (as was the traditional belief), and thus Corded Ware expanded from the forest zone, hence steppe ancestry would also be found there with other R1a lineages.

With the publication of Mathieson et al. (2017) and Olalde et al. (2017), I changed my mind, seeing how “steppe ancestry” did in fact appear quite late, hence it was likely to be the result of very specific population movements, probably directly from the Caucasus. Later, Mathieson published in a revision the sample from Alexandria of hg R1a-M417 (probably R1a-Z645, possibly Z93+), which further supported the idea that the migration of Corded Ware peoples started near the North Pontic forest-steppe (as I included in a the next revision).

The question remains the same I repeated recently, though: where do the extra Caucasus components (i.e. beyond EHG) of Eneolithic Ukraine/Corded Ware and Khvalynsk/Yamna come from?

Steppe ancestry: “EHG” + “CHG”?

About EHG ancestry

From Lazaridis et al. (2018):

Considering 2-way mixtures, we can model Karelia_HG as deriving 34 ± 2.8% of its ancestry from a Villabruna-related source, with the remainder mainly from ANE represented by the AfontovaGora3 (AG3) sample from Lake Baikal ~17kya.

AG3 was likely of haplogroup Q1a (as reported by YFull, see Genetiker), and probably the ANE ancestry found in Eastern Europe accompanied a Palaeolithic migration of Q1a2-M25 (formed ca. 22600 BC, TMRCA ca. 14300 BC).

NOTE. You can read more about the expansion of Q lineages during the Palaeolithic.

Combined with what we know about the Eneolithic Steppe and Caucasus populations – it is likely that ANE ancestry remained the most important component of some of the small ghost populations of the Caucasus until their emergence with the Lola culture.

Image modified from Wang et al. (2018). Samples projected in PCA of 84 modern-day West Eurasian populations (open symbols). Previously known clusters have been marked and referenced. Marked and labelled are the Balkan samples referenced in this text An EHG and a Caucasus ‘clouds’ have been drawn, leaving Pontic-Caspian steppe and derived groups between them. See the original file here. To understand the drawn potential Caucasus Mesolithic cluster, see above the PCA from Lazaridis et al. (2018).

The first sample we have now attributed to the EHG cluster is Sidelkino, from the Samara region (ca. 9300 BC), mtDNA U5a2. In Damgaard et al. (Science 2018), Yamnaya could be modelled as a CHG population related to Kotias Klde (54%) and the remaining from ANE population related to Sidelkino (>46%), with the following split events:

  1. A split event, where the CHG component of Yamnaya splits from KK1. The model inferred this time at 27 kya (though we note the larger models in Sections S2.12.4 and S2.12.5 inferred a more recent split time).
  2. A split event, where the ANE component of Yamnaya splits from Sidelkino. This was inferred at about about 11 kya.
  3. A split event, where the ANE component of Yamnaya splits from Botai. We inferred this to occur 17 kya. Note that this is above the Sidelkino split time, so our model infers Yamnaya to be more closely related to the EHG Sidelkino, as expected.
  4. An ancestral split event between the CHG and ANE ancestral populations. This was inferred to occur around 40 kya.

Other samples classified as of the EHG cluster:

  • Popovo2 (ca. 6250 BC) of hg J1, mtDNA U4d – Po2 and Po4 from the same site (ca. 6550 BC) show continuity of mtDNA.
  • Karelia_HG, from Juzhnii Oleni Ostrov (ca. 6300 BC): I0211/UzOO40 (ca. 6300 BC) of hg J1(xJ1a), mtDNA U4a; and I0061/UzOO74 of hg R1a1(xR1a1a), mtDNA C1
  • UzOO77 and UzOO76 from Juzhnii Oleni Ostrov (ca. 5250 BC) of mtDNA R1b.
  • Samara_HG from Lebyanzhinka (ca. 5600 BC) of hg R1b1a, mtDNA U5a1d.

From the analysis of Lazaridis et al. (2018), we have some details about their admixture:

Image modified from Lazaridis et al. (2018). Modeling present-day and ancient West-Eurasians. Mixture proportions computed with qpAdm (Supplementary Information section 4). The proportion of ‘Mbuti’ ancestry represents the total of ‘Deep’ ancestry from lineages that split prior to the split of Ust’Ishim, Tianyuan, and West Eurasians and can include both ‘Basal Eurasian’ and other (e.g., Sub-Saharan African) ancestry. (Left) ‘Conservative’ estimates. Each population 367 cannot be modeled with fewer admixture events than shown. (Right) ‘Speculative’ estimates. The highest number of sources (≤5) with admixture estimates within [0,1] are shown for each population. Some of the admixture proportions are not significantly different from 0 (Supplementary Information section 4).

About Anatolia_Neolithic ancestry

About the enigmatic Anatolia_Neolithic-related ancestry found in Pontic-Caspian steppe samples, this is what Wang et al. (2018) had to say:

We focused on model of mixture of proximal sources such as CHG and Anatolian Chalcolithic for all six groups of the Caucasus cluster (Eneolithic Caucasus, Maykop and Late Makyop, Maykop-Novosvobodnaya, Kura-Araxes, and Dolmen LBA), with admixture proportions on a genetic cline of 40-72% Anatolian Chalcolithic related and 28-60% CHG related (Supplementary Table 7). When we explored Romania_EN and Greece_Neolithic individuals as alternative southeast European sources (30-46% and 36-49%), the CHG proportions increased to 54-70% and 51-64%, respectively. We hypothesize that alternative models, replacing the Anatolian Chalcolithic individual with yet unsampled populations from eastern Anatolia, South Caucasus or northern Mesopotamia, would probably also provide a fit to the data from some of the tested Caucasus groups.


The first appearance of ‘Near Eastern farmer related ancestry’ in the steppe zone is evident in Steppe Maykop outliers. However, PCA results also suggest that Yamnaya and later groups of the West Eurasian steppe carry some farmer related ancestry as they are slightly shifted towards ‘European Neolithic groups’ in PC2 (Fig. 2D) compared to Eneolithic steppe. This is not the case for the preceding Eneolithic steppe individuals. The tilting cline is also confirmed by admixture f3-statistics, which provide statistically negative values for AG3 as one source and any Anatolian Neolithic related group as a second source

Modified image from Wang et al. (2018). In blue, Yamna-related populations. In red, Corded Ware-related populations, and two elevated Anatolia_Neolithic values in Yamna. Notice how only GAC-related admixture increases the Anatolian_N-related ancestry in the Yamna outlier from Ozero, and the late Yamna sample from Hungary, related to the homogeneous Yamna population. “Supplementary Table 14. P values of rank=3 and admixture proportions in modelling Steppe ancestry populations as a four-way admixture of distal sources EHG, CHG, Anatolian_Neolithic and WHG using 14 outgroups.Left populations: Steppe cluster, EHG, CHG, WHG, Anatolian_Neolithic. Right populations: Mbuti.DG, Ust_Ishim.DG, Kostenki14, MA1, Han.DG, Papuan.DG, Onge.DG, Villabruna, Vestonice16, ElMiron, Ethiopia_4500BP.SG, Karitiana.DG, Natufian, Iran_Ganj_Dareh_Neolithic.”

Detailed exploration via D-statistics in the form of D(EHG, steppe group; X, Mbuti) and D(Samara_Eneolithic, steppe group; X, Mbuti) show significantly negative D values for most of the steppe groups when X is a member of the Caucasus cluster or one of the Levant/Anatolia farmer-related groups (Supplementary Figs. 5 and 6). In addition, we used f- and D-statistics to explore the shared ancestry with Anatolian Neolithic as well as the reciprocal relationship between Anatolian- and Iranian farmer-related ancestry for all groups of our two main clusters and relevant adjacent regions (Supplementary Fig. 4). Here, we observe an increase in farmer-related ancestry (both Anatolian and Iranian) in our Steppe cluster, ranging from Eneolithic steppe to later groups. In Middle/Late Bronze Age groups especially to the north and east we observe a further increase of Anatolian farmer related ancestry consistent with previous studies of the Poltavka, Andronovo, Srubnaya and Sintashta groups and reflecting a different process not especially related to events in the Caucasus.

(…) Surprisingly, we found that a minimum of four streams of ancestry is needed to explain all eleven steppe ancestry groups tested, including previously published ones (Fig. 2; Supplementary Table 12). Importantly, our results show a subtle contribution of both Anatolian farmer-related ancestry and WHG-related ancestry (Fig.4; Supplementary Tables 13 and 14), which was likely contributed through Middle and Late Neolithic farming groups from adjacent regions in the West. The discovery of a quite old AME ancestry has rendered this probably unnecessary, because this admixture from an Anatolian-like ghost population could be driven even by small populations from the Caucasus.

Image modified from Wang et al. (2018). Marked are: in red, approximate limit of Anatolia_Neolithic ancestry found in Yamna populations; in blue, Corded Ware-related groups. “Modelling results for the Steppe and Caucasus 1128 cluster. Admixture proportions based on (temporally and geographically) distal and proximal models, showing additional Anatolian farmer-related ancestry in Steppe groups as well as additional gene flow from the south in some of the Steppe groups as well as the Caucasus groups (see also Supplementary Tables 10, 14 and 20).”

NOTE. For a detailed account of the possibilities regarding this differential admixture in the North Pontic area in contrast to the Don-Volga-Ural region, you can read the posts Sredni Stog, Proto-Corded Ware, and their “steppe admixture”, and Corded Ware culture origins: The Final Frontier.

While it is not yet fully clear, the increased Anatolian_Neolithic-like ancestry in Ukraine_Eneolithic samples (see below) makes it unlikely that all such ancestry in Corded Ware groups comes from a GAC-related contribution. It is likely that at least part of it represents contributions from populations of the Caucasus, based on the mostly westward population movements in the steppe from ca. 4600 BC on, including the Suvorovo-Novodanilovka expansion, and especially the Kuban-Maykop expansion during the final Eneolithic into the North Pontic area.

NOTE. Since CHG-like groups from the Caucasus may have combinations of AME and ANE ancestry similar to Yamna (which may thus appear as ‘steppe ancestry’ in the North Pontic area), it is impossible to interpret with precision the following ADMIXTURE graphic:

Modified image from Mathieson et al. (2018). Supervised ADMIXTURE analysis, modelling each ancient individual (one per row) as a mixture of population clusters constrained to contain northwestern-Anatolian Neolithic (grey), Yamnaya from Samara (yellow), EHG (pink) and WHG (green) populations. Dates in parentheses indicate approximate range of individuals in each population.

North-Eastern Technocomplex

The East Asian contribution to samples from the WHG samples (like Loschbour or La Braña), as specified in Fu et al. (2016), does not seem to be related to Baikal_EN, and appears possibly (in the ADMIXTURE analysis) integrated into he Villabruna component. I guess this implies that the shared alleles with East Asians are quite early, and potentially due to the expansion of R1b-L754 from the East.

It would be interesting to know the specific material culture Sidelkino belonged to – i.e. if it was related to the expansion of the North-Eastern Technocomplex – , and its Y-DNA. The Post-Swiderian expansion into eastern Europe, probably associated with the expansion of R1b-P297 lineages (including R1b-M73, found later in Botai and in Baltic HG) is supposed to have begun during the 11th millennium BC, but migrations to the Urals and beyond are probably concentrated in the 9th millennium, so this sample is possibly slightly early for R1b.

NOTE. User Rozenfeld at Anthrogenica posted this, which I think is interesting (in case anyone wants to try a Y-SNP call):

there is something strange with Sidelkino EHG: first, its archaeological context is not described in the supplementary. Second, its sex is not listed in the supplementary tables. Third, after looking for info about this sample, I found that: “Сиделькино-3. Для снятия вопроса о половой принадлежности индивида была проведена генетическая экспертиза, выявившая принадлежность останков мужчине.”(translation: Sidelkino-3. To resolve the question about sex of the remains, the genetic analysis was conducted, which showed that remains belonged to male), source: http://static.iea.ras.ru/books/7487_Traditsii.pdf

So either they haven’t mentioned his Y-DNA in the paper for some reason, or there are more than one Sidelkino sample and the male one has not yet been published. The coverage of the Sidelkino sample from the paper is 2.9, more than enough to tell Y-DNA haplogroup.

The map of spreading of Post-Swiderian and Post-Krasnosillian sites in Mesolithic of Eastern Europe in the 8th millennia BC. From Zaliznyak (see here).

My speculative guess right now about specific population movements in far eastern Europe, based on the few data we have:

  • The expansion of the North-Eastern Technocomplex first around the 9th millennium BC, most likely expanded R1b-P279 ca. 11300 BC, judging by its TMRCA, with both R1b-M73 (TMRCA 5300) and R1b-M269 (TMRCA 4400 BC) info (with extra El Mirón ancestry) back, and thus Eurasiatic.
  • The expansion of haplogroup J1 to the north may have happened before or after the R1b-P279 expansion. Judging by the increase in AG3-related ancestry near Karelia compared to Baltic_HG, it is possible that it expanded just after R1b-P279 (hence possibly J1-Y6304? TMRCA 9700 BC). Its long-lasting presence in the Caucasus is supported by the Satsurblia (ca. 11300 BC) and the Dolmen BA (ca. 1300 BC) samples.
  • The expansion of R1a-M17 ca. 6600 BC is still likely to have happened from the east, based on the R1a-M17 samples found in Baikalic cultures slightly later (ca. 5300 BC). The presence of elevated Baikal_EN ancestry in Karelia HG and in Samara HG, and the finding of R1a-M417 samples in the Forest Zone after the Mesolithic suggests a connection with the expansion of Hunter-Gatherer pottery, from the Elshanka culture in the Samara region northward into the Forset Zone and westward into the North Pontic area.
  • The expansion of R1b-M73 ca. 5300 BC is likely to be associated with the emergence of a group east of the Urals (related to the later Botai culture, and potentially Pre-Yukaghir). Its presence in a Narva sample from Donkalnis (ca. 5200 BC) suggest either an early split and spread of both R1b-P297 lineages (M73 and M269) through Eastern Europe, or maybe a back-migration with hunter-gatherer pottery.
  • R1b-M269 spread successfully ca. 4400 BC (and R1b-L23 ca. 4100 BC, both based on TMRCA), and this successful expansion is probably to be associated with the Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka expansion. We already know that Samara_HG ca. 5600 was R1b1a, so it is likely that R1b-M269 appeared (or ‘resurged’) in the Volga-Ural region shortly after the expansion of R1a-M17, whose expansion through the region may be inferred by the additional AG3 and Baikal_EN ancestry. Interesting from Samara_HG compared to the previous Sidelkino sample is the introduction of more El Mirón-related ancestry, typical of WHG populations (and thus proper of Baltic groups).

NOTE. The TMRCA dates are obviously gross approximations, because a) the actual rate of mutation is unknown and b) TMRCA estimates are based on the convergence of lineages that survived. The potential finding of R1a-Z645 (possibly Z93+) in Ukraine Eneolithic (ca. 4000 BC), and the potential finding of R1b-L23 in Khvalynsk ca. 4250 BC complicates things further, in terms of dates and origins of any subclade.

The question thus remains as it was long ago: did R1b-M269 lineages expand (‘return’) from the east, near the Urals, or directly from the north? Were they already near Samara at the same time as the expansion of hunter-gatherer pottery, and were not much affected by it? Or did they ‘resurge’ from populations admixed with Caucasus-related ancestry after the expansion of R1a-M17 with this pottery (since there are different stepped expansions from the Samara region)? We could even ask, did R1a-M17 really expand from the east, i.e. are the dates on Baikalic subclades from Moussa et al. (2016) reliable? Or did R1a-M17 expand from some pockets in the Pontic-Caspian steppe, taking over the expansion of HG pottery at some point?

Early Neolithic cultures in eastern and central Europe: 1–Yelshanian; 2–North Caspian; 3–Rakushechnyj Yar; 4–Surskian; 5–Dnieper-Donetsian; 6– Bug-Dniesterian; 7–Upper Volga; 8–Narvian; 9–Linear Pottery. White arrows: expansion of early farming; black arrows: spread of pottery-making traditions. From Dolukhanov et al. (2009).

Maglemose-related migrations

The most interesting aspect from the new paper (regarding Indo-Uralic migrations) is that Ancestral Middle Easterner ancestry will probably be a better proxy for the Anatolia_Neolithic component found in Ukraine Mesolithic to Eneolithic, and possibly also for some of the “more CHG-like” component found among Pontic-Caspian steppe populations, all likely derived from different admixture events with groups from the Caucasus.

NOTE. Even the supposed gene flow of Neolithic Iranian ancestry into the Caucasus can be put into question, since that means possibly a Dzudzuana-like population with greater “deep ancestry” proportion than the one found in CHG, which may still be found within the Caucasus.

If it was not clear already that following ‘steppe ancestry’ wherever it appears is a rather lame way of following Indo-European migrations, every single sample from the Caucasus and their admixture with Pontic-Caspian steppe populations will probably show that “steppe ancestry” is in fact formed by a variety of steppe-related ancestral components, impossible to follow coherently with a single population. Exactly what is happening already with the Siberian ancestry.

If the paper on the Dzudzuana samples has shown something, is that the expansion of an ANE-like population shook the entire Caucasus area up to the Zagros Mountains, creating this ANE – AME cline that are CHG and Iran_N, with further contributions of “deep ancestries” (probably from the south) complicating the picture further.

If this happens with few known samples, and we know of an ANE-like ghost population in the Caucasus (appearing later in the Lola culture), we can already guess that the often repeated “CHG component” found in Ukraine_Eneolithic and Khvalynsk will not be the same (except the part mediated by the Novodanilovka expansion).

This ANE-like expansion happened probably in the Late Upper Palaeolithic, and reached Northern Europe probably after the expansion of the Villabruna cluster (ca. 12000 BC), judging by the advance of AG3-like and ENA-like ancestry in later WHG samples.

The population movements during the Mesolithic and Early Neolithic in the North Pontic area are quite complicated: the extra AME ancestry is probably connected to the admixture with populations from the Caucasus, while the close similarity of Ukraine populations with Scandinavian ones (with an increase in Villabruna ancestry from Mesolithic to Neolithic samples), probably reveal population movements related to the expansion of Maglemose-related groups.

Etno-cultural situation in Central and Eastern Europe in the Late Mesolithic — Early Neolithic (VI—V Mill. BC) (after Конча 2004: 201, карта 1; made after ideas by L. L. Zaliznyak). Legend: 1 — Maglemose circle in the VII Mill. BC (after Gr. Clark); 2—7 — Mesolithic cultures of the Post-Maglemose tradition, VI Mill. BC (after S. Kozłowsky, L. L. Zaliznyak): 2 — de Leyen-Wartena; 3 — Oldesloe — Godenaa; 4 — Chojnice — Peńki; 5 — Janisłavice; 6 — finds of Janisłavice artefacts outside of the main area; 7 — Donets culture; 8 — directions of the settling of Janisłavice people (after S. Kozłowsky and L. L. Zaliznyak); 9 — the south border of Mesolithic and Early Neolithic cultures of post-Swidrian and post-Arensburgian traditions; 10 — northern border of settlement of the Balkan-Danubian farmers; 11 — Bug- Dniester culture; 12 — Neolithic cultures emerged on the ethno-cultural basis of post-Maglemose: Э — Ertebölle-Ellerbeck, Н — Neman, Д — Dnieper-Donets, М — Mariupol (western variants). From Klein (2017).

These Maglemose-related groups were probably migrants from the north-west, originally from the Northern European Plains, who occupied the previous Swiderian territory, and then expanded into the North Pontic area. The overwhelming presence of I2a (likely all I2a2a1b1b) lineages in Ukraine Neolithic supports this migration.

The likely picture of Mesolithic-Neolithic migrations in the North Pontic area right now is then:

  1. Expansion of R1a-M459 from the east ca. 12000 BC – probably coupled with AG3 and also some Baikal_EN ancestry. First sample is I1819 from Vasilievka (ca. 8700 BC), another is from Dereivka ca. 6900 BC.
  2. Expansion of R1b-V88 from the Balkans in the west ca. 9700 BC, based on its TMRCA and also the Balkan hunter-gatherer population overwhemingly of this haplogroup from the 10th millennium until the Neolithic. First sample is I1734 from Vasilievka (ca. 7252 BC), which suggests that it replaced the male population there, based on their similar EHG-like adxmixture (and lack of sizeable WHG increase), and shared mtDNA U5b2, U5a2.
  3. Expansion of I2a-Y5606 probably ca. 6800 based on its TMRCA with Janislawice culture. Supporting this is the increase in WHG contribution to Neolithic samples, including the spread of U4 subclades compared to the previous period.
  4. Expansion of R1a-M17 starting probably ca. 6600 BC in the east (see above).

NOTE. The first sample of haplogroup I appears in the Mesolithic: I1763 (ca. 8100 BC) of haplogroup I2a1, probably related to an older Upper Palaeolithic expansion.

Distribution of archeological cultures in the North Pontic Region during the Mesolithic (7th – 6th millennium BCE). Dotted, dashed and solid lines with corresponding arrows indicate alternative models of the spread of the Grebenyky culture groups. (After Bryuako IV., Samojlova TL., Eds, Drevnie kul’tury Severo-­‐Zapadnogo Prichernomor’ya, Odessa: SMIL, 2013.) Nikitin – Ivanova 2017.


It is becoming more and more clear with each new paper that – unless the number of very ancient samples increases – the use of Y-chromosome haplogroups remains one of the most important tools for academics; this is especially so in the steppes, in light of the diversity found in populations from the Caucasus. A clear example comes from the Yamna – Corded Ware similarities:

After the publication of the 2015 papers, it was likely that Yamna expanded with haplogroup R1b-L23, but it has only become crystal clear that Yamna expanded through the steppes into Bell Beakers, now that we have data about the strict genetic homogeneity of the whole Yamna population from west to east (including Afanasevo), in contrast with contemporary Corded Ware peoples which expanded from a different forest-steppe population.

The presence of haplogroups Q and R1a-M459 (xM17) in Khvalynsk along with a R1b1a sample, which some interpreted as being akin to modern ‘mixed’ populations in the past, is likely to point instead to a period of Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka expansion with R1b-M269, where different small populations from the steppe were being integrated into the common Khvalynsk stock, but where differences are seen in material culture surrounding their burials, as supported by the finding of R1b1 in the Kuban area already in the first half of the 5th millennium. The case would be similar to the early ‘mixed’ Icelandic population.

Only after the emergence of the Samara culture (in the second half of the 6th millennium BC), with a sample of haplogroup R1b1a, starts then the obvious connection with Early Proto-Indo-Europeans; and only after the appearance of late Sredni Stog and haplogroup R1a-M417 (ca. 4000 BC) is its connection with Uralic also clear. In previous population movements, I think more haplogroups were involved in migrations of small groups, and only some communities among them were eventually successful, expanding to be dominant, creating ever growing cultures during their expansions.

Indeed, if you think in terms of Uralic and Indo-European just as converging languages, and forget their potential genetic connection, then the genetic + linguistic picture becomes simplified, and the upper frontier of the 6th millennium BC with a division North Pontic (Mariupol) vs. Volga-Ural (Samara) is enough. However, tracing their movements backwards – with cultural expansions from west to east (with the expansion of farming), and earlier east to west (with hunter-gatherer pottery), and still earlier west to east (with the north-eastern technocomplex), offers an interesting way to prove their potential connection to macrofamilies, at least in terms of population movements.

Modified image from Tambets et al. (2018) Proportions of ancestral components in studied European and Siberian populations and the tested qpGraph model. a The qpGraph model fitting the data for the tested populations. Colour codes for the terminal nodes: pink—modern populations (‘Population X’ refers to test population) and yellow—ancient populations (aDNA samples and their pools). Nodes coloured other than pink or yellow are hypothetical intermediate populations. We putatively named nodes which we used as admixture sources using the main recipient among known populations. The colours of intermediate nodes on the qpGraph model match those on the admixture proportions panel. The NeolL (Neolithic Levant) ancestry selected in this qpGraph is likely to correspond (at least in part) to a specific Dzudzuana-like component present in the CHG-like population that admixed in the North Pontic area.

I am quite convinced right now that it would be possible to connect the expansion of R1b-L754 subclades with a speculative Nostratic (given the R1b-V88 connection with Afroasiatic, and the obvious connection of R1b-L297 with Eurasiatic). Paradoxically, the connection of an Indo-Uralic community in the steppes (after the separation of Yukaghir) with any lineage expansion (R1a-M17, R1b-M269, or even Q, I or J1) seems somehow blurrier than one year ago, possibly just because there are too many open possibilities.

David Reich says about the admixture with Neanderthals, which he helped discover:

At the conclusion of the Neanderthal genome project, I am still amazed by the surprises we encountered. Having found the first evidence of interbreeding between Neanderthals and modern humans, I continue to have nightmares that the finding is some kind of mistake. But the data are sternly consistent: the evidence for Neanderthal interbreeding turns out to be everywhere. As we continue to do genetic work, we keep encountering more and more patterns that reflect the extraordinary impact this interbreeding has had on the genomes of people living today.

I think this is a shared feeling among many of us who have made proposals about anything, to fear that we have made a gross, evident mistake, and constantly look for flaws. However, it seems to me that geneticists are more preoccupied with being wrong in their developed statistical methods, in the theoretical models they are creating, and not so much about errors in the true ancient ethnolinguistic picture human population genetics is (at least in theory) concerned about. Their publications are, after all, constantly associating genetic finds with cultures and (whenever possible) languages, so this aspect of their research should not be taken lightly.

Seeing how David Anthony or Razib Khan (among many others) have changed their previously preferred migration models as new data was published, and they continue to be respected in their own fields, I guess we can be confident that professionals with integrity are going to accept whatever new picture appears. While I don’t think that genetic finds can change what we can reconstruct with comparative grammar, I am also ready to revise guesstimates and routes of expansion of certain dialects if R1a-Z645 is shown to have accompanied Late Proto-Indo-Europeans during their expansion with Yamna, and later integrated somehow with Corded Ware.

However, taking into account the obsession of some with an ancestral, uninterrupted R1a—Indo-European association, and the lack of actual political repercussion of Neanderthal admixture, I think the most common nightmare that all genetic researchers should be worried about is to keep inflating this “Yamnaya ancestry”-based hornet’s nest, which has been constantly stirred up for the past two years, by rejecting it – or, rather, specifying it into its true complex nature.

This succession of corrections and redefinitions, coupled with the distinct Y-DNA bottleneck of each steppe population, will eventually lead to a completely different ethnolinguistic picture of the Pontic-Caspian region during the Eneolithic, which is likely to eventually piss off not only reasonable academics stubbornly attached to the CWC-IE idea, but also a part of those interested in daydreaming about their patrilineal ancestors.

Sometimes it’s better to just rip off the band-aid once and for all…

Featured image from The oldest pottery in hunter-gatherer communitiesand models of Neolithisation of Eastern Europe (2015), by Andrey Mazurkevich and Ekaterina Dolbunova.


Interesting is today’s post in Ancient DNA Era: Is Male-driven Genetic Replacement always meaning Language-shift?

Corded Ware—Uralic (I): Differences and similarities with Yamna


This is the first of four posts on the Corded Ware—Uralic identification:

I was reading The Bronze Age Landscape in the Russian Steppes: The Samara Valley Project (2016), and I was really surprised to find the following excerpt by David W. Anthony:

The Samara Valley links the central steppes with the western steppes and is a north-south ecotone between the pastoral steppes to the south and the forest-steppe zone to the north [see figure below]. The economic contrast between pastoral steppe subsistence, with its associated social organizations, and forest-zone hunting and fishing economies probably explains the shifting but persistent linguistic border between forest-zone Uralic languages to the north (today largely displaced by Russian) and a sequence of steppe languages to the south, recently Turkic, before that Iranian, and before that probably an eastern dialect of Proto-Indo-European (Anthony 2007). The Samara Valley represents several kinds of borders, linguistic, cultural, and ecological, and it is centrally located in the Eurasian steppes, making it a critical place to examine the development of Eurasian steppe pastoralism.

Language map of the middle Volga-Ural region. After “Geographical Distribution of the Uralic Languages” by Finno-Ugrian Society, Helsinki, 1993.

Khokhlov (translated by Anthony) further insists on the racial and ethnic divide between both populations, Abashevo to the north, and Poltavka to the south, during the formation of the Abashevo – Sintashta-Potapovka community that gave rise to Proto-Indo-Iranians:

Among all cranial series in the Volga-Ural region, the Potapovka population represents the clearest example of race mixing and probably ethnic mixing as well. The cultural advancements seen in this period might perhaps have been the result of the mixing of heterogeneous groups. Such a craniometric observation is to some extent consistent with the view of some archaeologists that the Sintashta monuments represent a combination of various cultures (principally Abashevo and Poltavka, but with other influences) and therefore do not correspond to the basic concept of an archaeological culture (Kuzmina 2003:76). Under this option, the Potapovka-Sintashta burial rite may be considered, first, a combination of traits to guarantee the afterlife of a selected part of a heterogeneous population. Second, it reflected a kind of social “caste” rather than a single population. In our view, the decisive element in shaping the ethnic structure of the Potapovka-Sintashta monuments was their extensive mobility over a fairly large geographic area. They obtained knowledge of various cultures from the populations with whom they interacted.

Late Middle Bronze Age cultures with the Proto-Indo-Iranian Sintashta-Potapovka-Filatovka group (shaded). After Anthony (2007 Figure 15.5), from Anthony (2016).

Interesting is also this excerpt about the predominant population in the Abashevo – Sintashta-Potapovka admixture (which supports what Chetan said recently, although this does not seemed backed by Y-DNA haplogroups found in the richest burials), coupled with the sign of incoming “Uraloid” peoples from the east, found in both Sintashta and eastern Abashevo:

The socially dominant anthropological component was Europeoid, possibly the descendants of Yamnaya. The association of craniofacial types with archaeological cultures in this period is difficult, primarily because of the small amount of published anthropological material of the cultures of steppe and forest belt (Balanbash, Vol’sko-Lbishche) and the eastern and southern steppes (Botai-Tersek). The crania associated with late MBA western Abashevo groups in the Don-Volga forest zone were different from eastern Abashevo in the Urals, where the expression of the Old Uraloid craniological complex was increased. Old Uraloid is found also on a single skull of Vol’sko-Lbishche culture (Tamar Utkul VII, Kurgan 4). Potentially related variants, including Mongoloid features, could be found among the Seima-Turbino tribes of the forest-steppe zone, who mixed with Sintashta and Abashevo. In the Sintashta Bulanova cemetery from the western Urals, some individuals were buried with implements of Seima-Turbino type (Khalyapin 2001; Khokhlov 2009; Khokhlov and Kitov 2009). Previously, similarities were noted between some individual skulls from Potapovka I and burials of the much older Botai culture in northern Kazakhstan (Khokhlov 2000a). Botai-Tersek is, in fact, a growing contender for the source of some “eastern” cranial features.

Facial reconstructions based on skulls from (a) Khvalynsk II Grave 24, a young adult male; (b) Poludin Grave 6, Yamnaya culture, a mature male (both by A. I. Nechvaloda); and (c) Luzanovsky cemetery, Srubnaya culture (by L. T. Yablonsky). In Khokhlov (2016).

The wave of peoples associated with “eastern” features can be seen in genetics in the Sintashta outliers from Narasimhan et al. (2018), and it probably will be eventually seen in Abashevo, too. These may be related to the Seima-Turbino international network – but most likely it is directly connected to Sintashta through the starting Andronovo and Seima-Turbino horizons, by admixing of prospective groups and small-scale back-migrations.

Corded Ware – Yamna similarities?

So, if peoples of north-eastern Europe have been assumed for a long time to be Uralic speakers, what is happening with the Corded Ware = IE obsession? Is it Gimbutas’ ghost possessing old archaeologists? Probably not.

It is about certain cultural similarities evident at first sight, which have been traditionally interpreted as a sign of cultural diffusion or migration. Not dissimilar to the many Bell Beaker models available, where each archaeologist is pushing certain differences, mixing what seemed reasonable, what still might seem reasonable, and what certainly isn’t anymore after the latest ancient DNA data.

“European dialect” expansion of Proto-Indo-European according to Gimbutas (1963)

The initial models of Gimbutas, Kristiansen, or Anthony – which are known to many today – were enunciated in the infancy of archaeological studies in the regions, during and just after the fall of the USSR, and before many radiocarbon dates that we have today were published (with radiocarbon dating being still today in need of refinement), so it is only logical that gross mistakes were made.

We have similar gross mistakes related to the origins of Bell Beakers, and studying them was certainly easier than studying eastern data.

  • Gimbutas believed – based mainly on Kurgan-like burials – that Bell Beaker formed from a combination of Yamna settlers with the Vučedol culture, so she was not that far from the truth.
  • The expansion of Corded Ware from peoples of the North Pontic forest-steppe area, proposed by Gimbutas and later supported also by Kristiansen (1989) as the main Indo-European expansion – , is probably also right about the approximate origins of the culture. Only its ‘Indo-European’ nature is in question, given the differences with Khvalynsk and Yamna evolution.
  • Anthony only claimed that Yamna migrants settled in the Balkans and along the Danube into the Hungarian steppes. He never said that Corded Ware was a Yamna offshoot until after the first genetic papers of 2015 (read about his newest proposal). He initially claimed that only certain neighbouring Corded Ware groups “adopted” Indo-European (through cultural diffusion) because of ‘patron-client’ relationships, and was never preoccupied with the fate of Corded Ware and related cultures in the east European forest zone and Finland.

So none of them was really that far from the true picture; we might say a lot people are more way off the real picture today than the picture these three researchers helped create in the 1990s and 2000s. Genetics is just putting the last nail in the coffin of Corded Ware as a Yamna offshoot, instead of – as we believed in the 2000s – to Vučedol and Bell Beaker.

So let’s revise some of these traditional links between Corded Ware and Yamna with today’s data:


Even more than genetics – at least until we have an adequate regional and temporary sampling – , archaeological findings lead what we have to know about both cultures.

It is essential to remember that Corded Ware, starting ca. 3000/2900 BC in east-central Europe, has been proposed to be derived from Early Yamna, which appeared suddenly in the Pontic-Caspian steppes ca. 3300 BC (probably from the late Repin expansion), and expanded to the west ca. 3000.

Early Yamna is in turn identified as the expanding Late Proto-Indo-European community, which has been confirmed with the recent data on Afanasevo, Bell Beaker, and Sintashta-Potapovka and derived cultures.

The question at hand, therefore, is if Corded Ware can be considered an offshoot of the Late PIE community, and thus whether the CWC ethnolinguistic community – proven in genetics to be quite homogeneous – spoke a Late PIE dialect, or if – alternatively – it is derived from other neighbouring cultures of the North Pontic region.

NOTE. The interpretation of an Indo-Slavonic group represented by a previous branching off of the group is untenable with today’s data, since Indo-Slavonic – for those who support it – would itself be a branch of Graeco-Aryan, and Palaeo-Balkan languages expanded most likely with West Yamna (i.e. R1b-L23, mainly R1b-Z2103) to the south.

The convoluted alternative explanation would be that Corded Ware represents an earlier, Middle PIE branch (somehow carrying R1a??) which influences expanding Late PIE dialects; this has been recently supported by Kortlandt, although this simplistic picture also fails to explain the Uralic problem.

Kurgans: The Yamna tradition was inherited from late Repin, in turn inherited from Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka proto-Kurgans. As for the CWC tradition, it is unclear if the tumuli were built as a tradition inherited from North and West Pontic cultures (in turn inherited or copied from Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka), such as late Trypillia, late Kvityana, late Dereivka, late Sredni Stog; or if they were built because of the spread of the ‘Transformation of Europe’, set in motion by the Early Yamna expansion ca. 3300-3000 BC (as found in east-central European cultures like Coţofeni, Lizevile, Șoimuș, or the Adriatic Vučedol). My guess is that it inherits an older tradition than Yamna, with an origin in east-central Europe, because of the mound-building distribution in the North Pontic area before the Yamna expansion, but we may never really know.

Distribution of Pit-Grave burials west of the Black Sea likely dating to the 2nd half of the IVth millennium BC (triangles: side-crouched burials; filled circles: supine extended burials; open circles: suspected). Frînculeasa, Preda, and Heyd (2015)

Burial rite: Yamna features (with regional differences) single burials with body on its back, flexed upright knees, poor grave goods, common orientation east-west (heads to the west) inherited from Repin, in turn inherited from Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka. CWC tradition – partially connected to Złota and surrounding east-central European territories (in turn from the Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka expansion) – features single graves, body in fetal position, strict gender differentiation – men on the right, women on the left -, looking to the south, graves with standardized assemblages (objects representing affirmation of battle, hunting, and feasting). The burial rites clearly represent different ideologies.

Left: Pit-Grave burial types expanded with Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka. Right: Pit-Grave burial types associated with the Yamna expansion and influence. Frînculeasa, Preda, and Heyd (2015)

Corded decoration: Corded ware decoration appears in the Balkans during the 5th millennium, and represents a simple technique whereby a cord is twisted, or wrapped around a stick, and then pressed directly onto the fresh surface of a vessel leaving a characteristic decoration. It appears in many groups of the 5th and 4th millennium BC, but it was Globular Amphorae the culture which popularized the drinking vessels and their corded ornamentation. It appears thus in some regional groups of Yamna, but it becomes the standard pottery only in Corded Ware (especially with the A-horizon), which shows continuity with GAC pottery.

Origins of the first Corded Ware horizon (5th millennium BC) after the Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka expansion. Corded Ware (circles) and horse-head scepters (rectangles) and other steppe elements (triangles). Image from Bulatović (2014).

Economy: Yamna expands from Repin (and Repin from Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka) as a nomadic or semi-nomadic purely pastoralist society (with occasional gathering of wild seeds), which naturally thrives in the grasslands of the Pontic-Caspian, lower Danube and Hungarian steppes. Corded Ware shows agropastoralism (as late Eneolithic forest-steppe and steppe groups of eastern Europe, such as late Trypillian, TRB, and GAC groups), inhabits territories north of the loess line, with heavy reliance of hunter-gathering depending on the specific region.

Cattle herding: Interestingly, both west Yamna and Corded Ware show more reliance on cattle herding than other pastoralist groups, which – contrasted with the previous Eneolithic herding traditions of the Pontic-Caspian steppe, where sheep-goats predominate – make them look alike. However, the cattle-herding economy of Yamna is essential for its development from late Repin and its expansion through the steppes (over western territories practising more hunter-gathering and sheep-goat herding economy), and it does not reach equally the Volga-Ural region, whose groups keep some of the old subsistence economy (read more about the late Repin expansion). Corded Ware, on the other hand, inherits its economic strategy from east European groups like TRB, GAC, and especially late Trypillian communities, showing a predominance of cattle herding within an agropastoral community in the forest-steppe and forest zones of Volhynia, Podolia, and surrounding forest-steppe and forest regions.

Scheme of interlinked socio-economic-ideological innovations forming the Yamnaya. Frînculeasa, Preda, and Heyd (2015)

Horse riding: Horse riding and horse transport is proven in Yamna (and succeeding Bell Beaker and Sintashta), assumed for late Repin (essential for cattle herding in the seas of grasslands that are the steppes, without nearby water sources), quite likely during the Khvalynsk expansion (read more here), and potentially also for Samara, where the predominant horse symbolism of early Khvalynsk starts. Corded Ware – like the north Pontic forest-steppe and forest areas during the Eneolithic – , on the other hand, does not show a strong reliance on horse riding. The high mobility and short-term settlements characteristic of Corded Ware, that are often associated with horse riding by association with Yamna, may or may not be correct, but there is no need for horses to explain their herding economy or their mobility, and the north-eastern European areas – the one which survived after Bell Beaker expansion – did certainly not rely on horses as an essential part of their economy.

NOTE: I cannot think of more supposed similarities right now. If you have more ideas, please share in the comments and I will add them here.

Genetic similarities

EHG: This is the clearest link between both communities. We thought it was related to the expansion of ANE-related ancestry to the west into WHG territory, but now it seems that it will be rather WHG expanding into ANE territory from the Pontic-Caspian region to the east (read more on recent Caucasus Neolithic, on , and on Caucasus HG).

NOTE. Given how much each paper changes what we know about the Palaeolithic, the origin and expansion of the (always developing) known ancestral components and specific subclades (see below) is not clear at all.

CHG: This is the key link between both cultures, which will delimit their interaction in terms of time and space. CHG is intermediate between EHG and Iran N (ca. 8000 BC). The ancestry is thus linked to the Caucasus south of the steppe before the emergence of North Pontic (western) and Don-Volga-Ural (eastern) communities during the Mesolithic. The real question is: when we have more samples from the steppe and the Caucasus during the Neolithic, how many CHG groups are we going to find? Will the new specific ancestral components (say CHG1, CHG2, CHG3, etc.) found in Yamna (from Khvalynsk, in the east) and Corded Ware (probably from the North Pontic forest-steppe) be the same? My guess is, most likely not, unless they are mediated by the Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka expansion (read more on CHG in the Caucasus).

Formation of Yamna and CHG contribution, in Damgaard et al. (Science 2018). A 10-leaf model based on combining the models in Fig. S16 and Fig. S19 and re-estimating the model parameters.

WHG/EEF: This is the obvious major difference – known today – in the formation of both communities in the steppe, and shows the different contacts that both groups had at least since the Eneolithic, i.e. since the expansion of Repin with its renewed Y-DNA bottleneck, and probably since before the early Khvalynsk expansion (read more on Yamna-Corded Ware differences contrasting with Yamna-Afanasevo, Yamna-Bell Beaker, and Yamna-Sintashta similarities).

NOTE 1. Some similarities between groups can be seen depending on the sampled region; e.g. Baltic groups show more similarities with southern Pontic-Caspian steppe populations, probably due to exogamy.

Tested qpGraph model in Tambets et al. (2018). The qpGraph model fitting the data for the tested populations. “Colour codes for the terminal nodes: pink—modern populations (‘Population X’ refers to test population) and yellow—ancient populations (aDNA samples and their pools). Nodes coloured other than pink or yellow are hypothetical intermediate populations. We putatively named nodes which we used as admixture sources using the main recipient among known populations. The colours of intermediate nodes on the qpGraph model match those on the admixture proportions panel.”

NOTE 2. We have this information on the differences in “steppe ancestry” between Yamna and Corded Ware, compared to previous studies, because now we have more samples of neighbouring, roughly contemporaneous Eneolithic groups, to analyse the real admixture processes. This kind of fine scale studies is what is going to show more and more differences between Khvalynsk-Yamna and Sredni Stog-Corded Ware as more data pours in. The evolution of both communities in archaeology and in PCA (see below) is probably witness to those differences yet to be published.

R1: Even though some people try very hard to think in terms of “R1” vs. (Caucasus) J or G or any other upper clade, this is plainly wrong. It is possible, given what we know now, that Q1a2-M242 expanded ANE ancestry to the west ca. 13000 BC, while R1b-P279 expanded WHG ancestry to the east with the expansion of post-Swiderian cultures, creating EHG as a WHG:ANE cline. The role of R1a-M459 is unknown, but it might be related to any of these migrations, or others (plural) along northern Eurasia (read more on the expansion of R1b-P279, on Palaeolithic Q1a2, and on R1a-M417).

NOTE. I am inclined to believe in a speculative Mesolithic-Early Neolithic community involving Eurasiatic movements accross North Eurasia, and Indo-Uralic movements in its western part, with the last intense early Uralic-PIE contacts represented by the forming west (Mariupol culture) and east (Don-Volga-Ural cultures, including Samara) communities developing side by side. Before their known Eneolithic expansions, no large-scale Y-DNA bottleneck is going to be seen in the Pontic-Caspian steppe, with different (especially R1a and R1b subclades) mixed among them, as shown in North Pontic Neolithic, Samara HG, and Khvalynsk samples.

Image modified from Wang et al. (2018). Samples projected in PCA of 84 modern-day West Eurasian populations (open symbols). Previously known clusters have been marked and referenced. Marked and labelled are the Balkan samples referenced in this text An EHG and a Caucasus ‘clouds’ have been drawn, leaving Pontic-Caspian steppe and derived groups between them. See the original file here.

Corded Ware and ‘steppe ancestry’

If we take a look at the evolution of Corded Ware cultures, the expansion of Bell Beakers – dominated over most previous European cultures from west to east Europe – influenced the development of the whole European Bronze Age, up to Mierzanowice and Trzciniec in the east.

The only relevant unscathed CWC-derived groups, after the expansion of Sintashta-Potapovka as the Srubna-Andronovo horizon in the Eurasian steppes, were those of the north-eastern European forest zone: between Belarus to the west, Finland to the north, the Urals to the east, and the forest-steppe region to the south. That is, precisely the region supposed to represent Uralic speakers during the Bronze Age.

This inconsistency of steppe ancestry and its relation with Uralic (and Balto-Slavic) peoples was observed shortly after the publication of the first famous 2015 papers by Paul Heggarty, of the Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (read more):

Haak et al. (2015) make much of the high Yamnaya ancestry scores for (only some!) Indo-European languages. What they do not mention is that those same results also include speakers of other languages among those with the highest of all scores for Yamnaya ancestry. Only these are languages of the Uralic family, not Indo-European at all; and their Yamnaya-ancestry signals are far higher than in many branches of Indo-European in (southern) Europe. Estonian ranks very high, while speakers of the very closely related Finnish are curiously not shown, and nor are the Saami. Hungarian is relevant less directly since this language arrived only c. 900 AD, but also high.


These data imply that Uralic-speakers too would have been part of the Yamnaya > Corded Ware movement, which was thus not exclusively Indo-European in any case. And as well as the genetics, the geography, chronology and language contact evidence also all fit with a Yamnaya > Corded Ware movement including Uralic as well as Balto-Slavic.

Both papers fail to address properly the question of the Uralic languages. And this despite — or because? — the only Uralic speakers they report rank so high among modern populations with Yamnaya ancestry. Their linguistic ancestors also have a good claim to have been involved in the Corded Ware and Yamnaya cultures, and of course the other members of the Uralic family are scattered across European Russia up to the Urals.

NOTE. Although the author was trying to support the Anatolian hypothesis – proper of glottochronological studies often published from the Max Planck Institute – , the question remains equally valid: “if Proto-Indo-European expands with Corded Ware and steppe ancestry, what is happening with Uralic peoples?”

For my part, I claimed in my draft that ancestral components were not the only relevant data to take into account, and that Y-DNA haplogroups R1a and R1b (appearing separately in CWC and Yamna-Bell Beaker-Afanasevo), together with their calculated timeframes of formation – and therefore likely expansion – did not fit with the archaeological and linguistic description of the spread of Proto-Indo-European and its dialects.

In fact, it seemed that only one haplogroup (R1b-M269) was constantly and consistenly associated with the proposed routes of Late PIE dialectal expansions – like Anthony’s second (Afanasevo) and third (Lower Danube, Balkan) waves. What genetics shows fits seamlessly with Mallory’s association of the North-West Indo-European expansion with Bell Beakers (read here how archaeologists were right).

Map of the much beloved steppe (or “Yamnaya”) ancestry in modern populations, by Balanovsky. Modified from Klejn (2017).

More precise inconsistencies were observed after the publication of Olalde et al. (2017) and Mathieson et al. (2017), by Volker Heyd in Kossinna’s smile (2017). Letting aside the many details enumerated (you can read a summary in my latest draft), this interesting excerpt is from the conclusion:

NOTE. An open access ealier draft version of the paper is offered for download by the author.

Simple solutions to complex problems are never the best choice, even when favoured by politicians and the media. Kossinna also offered a simple solution to a complex prehistoric problem, and failed therein. Prehistoric archaeology has been aware of this for a century, and has responded by becoming more differentiated and nuanced, working anthropologically, scientifically and across disciplines (cf. Müller 2013; Kristiansen 2014), and rejecting monocausal explanations. The two aDNA papers in Nature, powerful and promising as they are for our future understanding, also offer rather straightforward messages, heavily pulled by culture-history and the equation of people with culture. This admittedly is due partly to the restrictions of the medium that conveys them (and despite the often relevant additional detail given as supplementary information, which is unfortunately not always given full consideration).

While I have no doubt that both papers are essentially right, they do not reflect the complexity of the past. It is here that archaeology and archaeologists contributing to aDNA studies find their role; rather than simply handing over samples and advising on chronology, and instead of letting the geneticists determine the agenda and set the messages, we should teach them about complexity in past human actions and interactions. If accepted, this could be the beginning of a marriage made in heaven, with the blessing smile of Gustaf Kossinna, and no doubt Vere Gordon Childe, were they still alive, in a reconciliation of twentieth- and twenty-first-century approaches. For us as archaeologists, it could also be the starting point for the next level of a new archaeology.

Main distribution of Yamnaya kurgans in the Pontic-Caspian steppe of modern day Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan, and its western branch in modern south-east European countries of Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Hungary, with numbers of excavated kurgans and graves given. Picture: Volker Heyd (2018).

The question was made painfully clear with the publication of Olalde et al. (2018) & Mathieson et al. (2018), where the real route of Yamna expansion into Europe was now clearly set through the steppes into the Carpathian basin, later expanded as Bell Beakers.

This has been further confirmed in more recent papers, such as Narasimhan et al. (2018), Damgaard et al. (2018), or Wang et al. (2018), among others.

However, the discussion is still dominated by political agendas based on prevalent Y-DNA haplogroups in modern countries and ethnic groups.


Palaeolithic Caucasus samples reveal the most important component of West Eurasians


Preprint Paleolithic DNA from the Caucasus reveals core of West Eurasian ancestry, by Lazaridis et al. bioRxiv (2018).

Interesting excerpts:

We analyzed teeth from two individuals 63 recovered from Dzudzuana Cave, Southern Caucasus, from an archaeological layer previously dated to ~27-24kya (…). Both individuals had mitochondrial DNA sequences (U6 and N) that are consistent with deriving from lineages that are rare in the Caucasus or Europe today. The two individuals were genetically similar to each other, consistent with belonging to the same population and we thus analyze them jointly.

(…) our results prove that the European affinity of Neolithic Anatolians does not necessarily reflect any admixture into the Near East from Europe, as an Anatolian Neolithic-like population already existed in parts of the Near East by ~26kya. Furthermore, Dzudzuana shares more alleles with Villabruna-cluster groups than with other ESHG (Extended Data Fig. 5b), suggesting that this European affinity was specifically related to the Villabruna cluster, and indicating that the Villabruna affinity of PGNE populations from Anatolia and the Levant is not the result of a migration into the Near East from Europe. Rather, ancestry deeply related to the Villabruna cluster was present not only in Gravettian and Magdalenian-era Europeans but also in the populations of the Caucasus, by ~26kya. Neolithic Anatolians, while forming a clade with Dzudzuana with respect to ESHG, share more alleles with all other PGNE (Extended Data Fig. 5d), suggesting that PGNE share at least partially common descent to the exclusion of the much older samples from Dzudzuana.

Ancient West Eurasian population structure. PCA of key ancient West Eurasians, including additional populations (shown with grey shells), in the space of outgroup f4-statistics (Methods).

Our co-modeling of Epipaleolithic Natufians and Ibero-Maurusians from Taforalt confirms that the Taforalt population was mixed, but instead of specifying gene flow from the ancestors of Natufians into the ancestors of Taforalt as originally reported, we infer gene flow in the reverse direction (into Natufians). The Neolithic population from Morocco, closely related to Taforalt is also consistent with being descended from the source of this gene flow, and appears to have no admixture from the Levantine Neolithic (Supplementary Information 166 section 3). If our model is correct, Epipaleolithic Natufians trace part of their ancestry to North Africa, consistent with morphological and archaeological studies that indicate a spread of morphological features and artifacts from North Africa into the Near East. Such a scenario would also explain the presence of Y-chromosome haplogroup E in the Natufians and Levantine farmers, a common link between the Levant and Africa.

(…) we cannot reject the hypothesis that Dzudzuana and the much later Neolithic Anatolians form a clade with respect to ESHG (P=0.286), consistent with the latter being a population largely descended from Dzudzuana-like pre-Neolithic populations whose geographical extent spanned both Anatolia and the Caucasus. Dzudzuana itself can be modeled as a 2-way mixture of Villabruna-related ancestry and a Basal Eurasian lineage.

In qpAdm modeling, a deeply divergent hunter-gatherer lineage that contributed in relatively unmixed form to the much later hunter-gatherers of the Villabruna cluster is specified as contributing to earlier hunter-gatherer groups (Gravettian Vestonice16: 35.7±11.3% and Magdalenian ElMiron: 60.6±11.3%) and to populations of the Caucasus (Dzudzuana: 199 72.5±3.7%, virtually identical to that inferred using ADMIXTUREGRAPH). In Europe, descendants of this lineage admixed with pre-existing hunter-gatherers related to Sunghir3 from Russia for the Gravettians and GoyetQ116-1 from Belgium for the Magdalenians, while in the Near East it did so with Basal Eurasians. Later Europeans prior to the arrival of agriculture were the product of re-settlement of this lineage after ~15kya in mainland Europe, while in eastern Europe they admixed with Siberian hunter-gatherers forming the WHG-ANE cline of ancestry [See PCA above]. In the Near East, the Dzudzuana-related population admixed with North African-related ancestry in the Levant and with Siberian hunter-gatherer and eastern non-African-related ancestry in Iran and the Caucasus. Thus, the highly differentiated populations at the dawn of the Neolithic were primarily descended from Villabruna Cluster and Dzudzuana-related ancestors, with varying degrees of additional input related to both North Africa and Ancient North/East Eurasia whose proximate sources may be clarified by future sampling of geographically and temporally intermediate populations.

An admixture graph model of Paleolithic West Eurasians. An automatically generated admixture graph models fits populations (worst Z-score of the difference between estimated and fitted f-statistics is 2.7) or populations (also including South_Africa_HG, worst Z-score is 3.5). This is a simplified model assuming binary admixture events and is not a unique solution (Supplementary Information section 2). Sampled populations are shown with ovals and select labeled internal nodes with rectangles.

Interesting excerpts from the supplementary materials:

From our analysis of Supplementary Information section 3, we showed that these sources are indeed complex, and only one of these (WHG, represented by Villabruna) appears to be a contributor to all the remaining sources. This should not be understood as showing that hunter-gatherers from mainland Europe migrated to the rest of West Eurasia, but rather that the fairly homogeneous post-15kya population of mainland Europe labeled WHG appear to represent a deep strain of ancestry that seems to have contributed to West Eurasians from the Gravettian era down to the Neolithic period.

Villabruna is representative of the WHG group. We also include ElMiron, the best sample from the Magdalenian era as we noticed that within the WHG group there were individuals that could not be modeled as a simple clade with Villabruna but also had some ElMiron-related ancestry. Ddudzuana is representative of the Ice Age Caucasus population, differentiated from Villabruna by Basal Eurasian ancestry. AG3 represents ANE/Upper Paleolithic Siberian ancestry, sampled from the vicinity of Lake Baikal, while Russia_Baikal_EN related to eastern Eurasians and represents a later layer of ancestry from the same region of Siberia as AG3 Finally, Mbuti are a deeply diverged African population that is used here to represent deep strains of ancestry (including Basal Eurasian) prior to the differentiation between West Eurasians and eastern non-Africans that are otherwise not accounted for by the remaining five sources. Collectively, we refer to this as ‘Basal’ or ‘Deep’ ancestry, which should be understood as referring potentially to both Basal Eurasian and African ancestry.

It has been suggested that there is an Anatolia Neolithic-related affinity in hunter-gatherers from the Iron Gates. Our analysis confirms this by showing that this population has Dzudzuana-related ancestry as do many hunter-gatherer populations from southeastern Europe, eastern Europe and Scandinavia. These populations cannot be modeled as a simple mixture of Villabruna and AG3 but require extra Dzudzuana-related ancestry even in the conservative estimates, with a positive admixture proportion inferred for several more in the speculative ones. Thus, the distinction between European hunter-gatherers and Near Eastern populations may have been gradual in pre-Neolithic times; samples from the Aegean (intermediate between those from the Balkans and Anatolia) may reveal how gradual the transition between Dzudzuana-like Neolithic Anatolians and mostly Villabruna-like hunter-gatherers was in southeastern Europe.

Modified image (cut, with important samples marked). Modeling present-day and ancient West-Eurasians. Mixture proportions computed with qpAdm (Supplementary Information section 4). The proportion of ‘Mbuti’ ancestry represents the total of ‘Deep’ ancestry from lineages that split prior to the 365 split of Ust’Ishim, Tianyuan, and West Eurasians and can include both ‘Basal Eurasian’ and other (e.g., Sub-Saharan African) ancestry. (a) ‘Conservative’ estimates. Each population 367 cannot be modeled with fewer admixture events than shown.

Villabruna: This type of ancestry differentiates between present-day Europeans and non-Europeans within West Eurasia, attaining a maximum of ~20% in the Baltic in accordance with previous observations and with the finding of a later persistence of significant hunter-gatherer ancestry in the region. Its proportion drops to ~0% throughout the Near East. Interestingly, a hint of such ancestry is also inferred in all North African populations west of Libya in the speculative proportions, consistent with an archaeogenetic inference of gene flow from Iberia to North Africa during the Late Neolithic.

ElMiron: This type of ancestry is absent in present-day West Eurasians. This may be because most of the Villabruna-related ancestry in Europeans traces to WHG populations that lacked it (since ElMiron-related ancestry is quite variable within European hunter-gatherers). However, ElMiron ancestry makes up only a minority component of all WHG populations sampled to date and WHG-related ancestry is a minority component of present-day Europeans. Thus, our failure to detect it in present day people may be simply be too little of it to detect with our methods.

Dzudzuana: Our analysis identifies Dzudzuana-related ancestry as the most important component of West Eurasians and the one that is found across West Eurasian-North African populations at ~46-88% levels. Thus, Dzudzuana-related ancestry can be viewed as the common core of the ancestry of West Eurasian-North African populations. Its distribution reaches its minima in northern Europe and appears to be complementary to that of Villabruna, being most strongly represented in North Africa, the Near East (including the Caucasus) and Mediterranean Europe. Our results here are expected from those of Supplementary Information section 3 in which we modeled ancient Near Eastern/North African populations (the principal ancestors of present-day people from the same regions) as deriving much of their ancestry from a Dzudzuana-related source. Migrations from the Near East/Caucasus associated with the spread of the Neolithic, but also the formation of steppe population introduced most of the Dzudzuana-related ancestry present in Europe, although (as we have seen above) some such ancestry was already present in some pre-agricultural hunter-gatherers in Europe.

AG3: Ancestry related to the AG3 sample from Siberia has a northern distribution, being strongly represented in both central-northern Europe and the north Caucasus.

Russia_Baikal_EN: Ancestry related to hunter-gatherers from Lake Baikal in Siberia (postdating AG3) appears to have affected primarily northeastern European populations which have been previously identified as having East Eurasian ancestry; some such ancestry is also identified for a Turkish population from Balıkesir, likely reflecting the Central Asian ancestry of Turkic speakers which has been recently confirmed directly in an Ottoman sample from Anatolia.

Some comments

So, to try and sum up:

  • Dzudzuana shares ancestry with ‘Common West Eurasian’ (CWE). the ancestor cluster of Villabruna.
  • Dzudzuana diverges from CWE because of a Basal Eurasian ancestry contribution [which supports that Basal Eurasian ancestry was a deep Middle Eastern lineage].
  • Dzudzuana is closest to Anatolia Neolithic, and close to Gravettian.
Palaeolithic migrations and clusters in Europe. See more maps.


  1. Aurignacian: First West Eurasians arrive ca. 36,000 BP, Goyet cluster expands probably with C1a2 lineages.
  2. After that, the early or ‘unmixed’ Villabruna cluster (‘hidden’ somewhere probably east of Europe, either North Eurasia or South Eurasia), lineages unknown (possibly IJ), contributes to:
    1. Gravettian (ca. 30,000 BP): Věstonice cluster expands, probably with IJ lineages.
    2. A (hidden) ‘Common West Eurasian’ population.
    3. In turn:

      • Dzudzuana ca. 26,000 BP derived from Common West Eurasian (curiously, haplogroup G seems to split in today’s subclades ca. 26,000 BP).
      • During the Gravettian (ca. 26,000 BP), an Anatolian Neolithic-like population exists already in the Near East. Both Věstonice and this Anatolian HG are close to Dzudzuana; in turn, Dzudzuana from CWE.

    4. Magdalenian (ca. 20,000 BP): El Mirón cluster expands, probably with more specific I lineages.
  3. Bølling-Allerød warming period (ca. 14,000 BP): ‘late’ Villabruna cluster or WHG (=CWE with greater affinity to Near Eastern populations) expands, probably spreading with R1b in mainland Europe and to the east (admixing with Siberian HG), creating the WHG — ANE ancestry cline, as reflected in Iron Gates HG, Baltic HG, etc.

[Here we have the possible “bidirectional gene flow between populations ancestral to Southeastern Europeans of the early Holocene and Anatolians of the late glacial or a dispersal of Southeastern Europeans into the Near East” inferred from Anatolian hunter-gatherers]

The Gravettian (30,000 to 20,000 years) is drawn in black and white; the subsequent Magdalenian (17,000 to 10,000 years) and Hamburgian (13,000-11,750 years) are in light blue and red. It is not known whether the spread of the Gravettian was a result of diffusion of people or cultures. This figure illustrates the possible monocentric origins of the Gravettian, in which the Gravettian is hypothesized to have its origin in the Middle Danube Basin, first spreading west (solid lines) and later spreading east and southeast (dashed lines). This scenario is largely based on the chronology of sites. Thus far, genome-wide data has been collected from only three of the ten< Gravettian regions indicated on the map. These regions are northern Austria (1 sample), the Czech Republic (6), southern Italy (3) and Belgium (3), indicating that they all share a genomic ancestry. However, it is unknown whether samples from the remaining regions also share a close genomic ancestry. Some skeletal remains associated with the Gravettian that could be investigated paleogenomically are from Sungir (Russia); Laghar Velho (central Portugal); Cussac Cave; Les Garennes, near Vilhonneur; and Level 2 at Abri Pataud116 (western France). Light blue and light red regions represent the approximate distributions of the Magdalenian Culture and the Hamburgian Culture (13,000-11,750 years). Figure adapted from Kozłowski. Image from Harris (2017)

The paper talks about possibilities for Common West Eurasian:

  1. Migration from mainland Europe to Near East or vice versa (not very likely);
  2. Migration from a geographically intermediate Ice Age refugium in southeast Europe, Anatolia, or the circum-Pontic region that explain post-glacial affinity of post-glacial Levantine and Anatolian populations.

It also re-states what was known:

  • EHG (ca. 8,000 BP) = between WHG — ANE (ca. 24,000 BP).
  • CHG (ca. 10,000 BP) = between EHG — Iran N.

I would say that the distinct CHG vs. Dzudzuana ancestry puts CHG probably to the south, within the Iranian Plateau, during the Gravettian, expanding probably later.

Also important, Ancestral North African probably accompanied by haplogroup E. Early expansion of North Africans into the Near East further confirms the impossibility of Afroasiatic (much younger) to be associated with these expansions, and confirms that the still unclear Green Sahara migrations are the key.


Expansion of domesticated goat echoes expansion of early farmers


New paper (behind paywall) Ancient goat genomes reveal mosaic domestication in the Fertile Crescent, by Daly et al. Science (2018) 361(6397):85-88.

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

Thus, our data favor a process of Near Eastern animal domestication that is dispersed in space and time, rather than radiating from a central core (3, 11). This resonates with archaeozoological evidence for disparate early management strategies from early Anatolian, Iranian, and Levantine Neolithic sites (12, 13). Interestingly, our finding of divergent goat genomes within the Neolithic echoes genetic investigation of early farmers. Northwestern Anatolian and Iranian human Neolithic genomes are also divergent (14–16), which suggests the sharing of techniques rather than large-scale migrations of populations across Southwest Asia in the period of early domestication. Several crop plants also show evidence of parallel domestication processes in the region (17).

PCA affinity (Fig. 2), supported by qpGraph and outgroup f3 analyses, suggests that modern European goats derive from a source close to the western Neolithic; Far Eastern goats derive from early eastern Neolithic domesticates; and African goats have a contribution from the Levant, but in this case with considerable admixture from the other sources (figs. S11, S16, and S17 and tables S26 and 27). The latter may be in part a result of admixture that is discernible in the same analyses extended to ancient genomes within the Fertile Crescent after the Neolithic (figs. S18 and S19 and tables S20, S27, and S31) when the spread of metallurgy and other developments likely resulted in an expansion of inter-regional trade networks and livestock movement.

Maximumlikelihood phylogeny and geographical distributions of ancient mtDNA haplogroups. (A) A phylogeny placing ancient whole mtDNA sequences in the context of known haplogroups. Symbols denoting individuals are colored by clade membership; shape indicates archaeological period (see key). Unlabeled nodes are modern bezoar and outgroup sequence (Nubian ibex) added for reference.We define haplogroup T as the sister branch to the West Caucasian tur (9). (B and C) Geographical distributions of haplogroups show early highly structured diversity in the Neolithic period (B) followed by collapse of structure in succeeding periods (C).We delineate the tiled maps at 7250 to 6950 BP, a period >bracketing both our earliest Chalcolithic sequence (24, Mianroud) and latest Neolithic (6, Aşağı Pınar). Numbered archaeological sites also include Direkli Cave (8), Abu Ghosh (9), ‘Ain Ghazal (10), and Hovk-1 Cave (11) (table S1) (9).

Our results imply a domestication process carried out by humans in dispersed, divergent, but communicating communities across the Fertile Crescent who selected animals in early millennia, including for pigmentation, the most visible of domestic traits.


Kura-Araxes implicated in the transformation of regional trade in the Near East


Craft production at Köhne Shahar, a Kura-Araxes settlement in Iranian Azerbaijan, by Alizadeh et al. J Anthropol Arch (2018) 51:127-143.

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):


Kura-Araxes communities first emerged throughout the southern Caucasus in the mid-4th millennium BC (Sagona, 1984; Rothman, 2005; Kohl, 2009) or possibly earlier in Nakhchivan (Marro et al., 2014; Palumbi and Chataigner, 2014: 250; Marro et al., 2015; Palumbi and Chataigner, 2015). By the late 4th-early 3rd millennium BC, their characteristic material culture, particularly hand-made black burnished pottery, spread throughout much of Southwest Asia after 2900 BCE (Fig. 1). The widespread dissemination of this material culture, along with the small size of most sites, the ephemeral nature of their architectural remains in these smaller sites, and their presence in both fertile lowlands and seasonally-inhospitable highlands, have been used to portray Kura-Araxes communities as small, egalitarian communities of mobile pastoralists or sedentary agriculturalists; economically undifferentiated and socially non-hierarchical (Smith, 2005: 258; Frangipane and Palumbi, 2007; Kohl, 2007: 113; 2009: 250). Limited evidence for craft production and trade among Kura-Araxes communities has further strengthened the argument that Kura-Araxes economies were dominated by domestic and subsistence-related activities (Palumbi, 2008: 53). With some rare exceptions (Marro et al., 2010; Stöllner, 2014; Simonyan and Rothman, 2015), Kura-Araxes settlements lack any evidence of craft production, mining, or resource extraction.

Distribution of Kura-Araxes material culture in the Near East (modified from Wikimedia).

Kura-Araxes communities, however, are also implicated in the evolution and transformation of regional trade in the Near East. Cause and effect of the spread of Kura-Araxes material culture beyond the Caucasus “homeland” and the establishment of diaspora is hotly debated. Among proponents of emigration, the strongest arguments for movement out of the Caucasus include the presence of strong pull factors, notably productive activities like meat and wool production, viticulture, and metals and metallurgy (Rothman, 2003). Kura-Araxes populations primarily inhabited mountains and intermontane valleys of the highland zone surrounding Mesopotamia. Kura-Araxes communities had access to metals, precious and semi-precious stones, stones for tool making, wood, and animal products; resources that were abundant in the mountain zone, yet critical to the evolution of Mesopotamian societies. The frequent appearance of simple bronze and copper objects at temporary camps of Kura-Araxes herders suggests that mobile agropastoralists engaged in metallurgy and trade in metals, especially with societies of the Upper Euphrates (Frangipane et al., 2001; Hauptmann et al., 2002; Rothman, 2003; Connor and Sagona, 2007; Frangipane, 2014). Wool and textiles products from sheep herded by mountainous communities may have been major exports of the mountain zone to Mesopotamia (Anthony, 2007: 284; Nosch et al., 2013; Breniquet and Michel, 2014).

It is argued that by the second half of the 4th millennium BC (Surenhagen, 1986; Algaze, 1989, 2004, 2007), Uruk polities of southern Mesopotamia established colonies across northern Mesopotamia, southern Anatolia, and western Iran to better control regional trade. Although the nature of these colonies and local developments is still debated (Stein, 2002, 2014), co-occurrence of the sudden abandonment of these colonies and regional expansion of Kura-Araxes communities by the end of the 4th millennium BC has led some scholars to argue that Kura-Araxes communities were emergent competitors of Mesopotamia whose economic activities possibly contributed to the decline and eventual collapse of the Uruk system (Algaze, 2001: 76; Kohl, 2007: 97–98; Lamberg-Karlovsky, 2008: 10).

Major Kura-Araxes sites in the Caucasus region and location of Köhne Shahar (modified map from wikimedia.org).


The abundant evidence of craft specialization at Köhne Shahar clearly shows that Kura-Araxes communities were not all homogenous and undifferentiated. Excavations and a geophysical survey at Köhne Shahar demonstrate that multi-craft production activities were practiced at a community-level inside the citadel at the site, and that a large portion of the population may have engaged in this specialized, extrahousehold craft economy. The possible involvement of a political apparatus with a specialized craft economy at Köhne Shahar may have necessitated control over various aspects of production such as labor, commodities, resource procurement, exchange, and grain storage. As Adam Smith (Smith, 2015: 106) argues, all of these point to complex labor coordination at Köhne Shahar.

Although excavations exposed a limited area, the scale of craft production at Köhne Shahar and the scarcity of finished products may suggest that consumers of finished goods were not necessarily residents of Köhne Shahar, but instead occupied other areas on the landscape. Communication between these nodes of production and consumption necessitated a network of exchange and interaction. The miniature sumptuary container at Köhne Shahar points to possible interaction with regions of Central Asia and the Persian Gulf, while the bitumen used to mend vessels points to interaction with northern Mesopotamia or the Zagros mountains in western Iran. It is possible that long-distance interaction brought Köhne Shahar chiefs into contact with other complex societies in the region, connecting them to a larger inter-regional exchange and trade network.

Archaeological and geophysical evidence for community-level production documents Köhne Shahar’s emergence as a regional economic center. The extent of Köhne Shahar’s regional engagements and ambitions, however, have yet to be fully understood. Köhne Shahar’s economic focus on production may have enabled its producers to contribute to regional transformations. When trade became a significant part of the economy of early complex societies in the Near East in the second half of the 4th millennium BC (Surenhagen, 1986; Algaze, 1989, 2004), Kura-Araxes communities like Köhne Shahar may have emerged as a primary center of specialized craft production in the late 4th/early 3rd millennium BC. Alternatively, Köhne Shahar’s economic success may have been due to its ability to satisfy regional demand (highlands of NW Iran, eastern Anatolia, or northern Mesopotamia) by filling a supply vacuum created following the collapse of Uruk colonies. Political and entrepreneurial ambitions of Köhne Shahar chiefs may have also provided the impetus for the selection of the site’s naturally defensible area and the construction of a large and defensive fortification wall; two barriers intended to safeguard the production machinery of the citadel from the onset of the site’s occupation in the late 4th millennium BC (Alizadeh et al., 2015).

I don’t have much to add to what I recently wrote about potential intrusive steppe admixture in the Caucasus.


About Scepters, Horses, and War: on Khvalynsk migrants in the Caucasus and the Danube


dergachev-scepters-khavlynsk-horsesAbout two months ago I stumbled upon a gem in archaeological studies related to Proto-Indo-Europeans, the book О скипетрах, о лошадях, о войне: этюды в защиту миграционной концепции М.Гимбутас (On sceptres, on horses, on war: Studies in defence of M. Gimbutas’ migration concepts), 2007, by V. A. Dergachev, from the Institute of Cultural Heritage of the Moldavian Republic.

Dergachev’s work dedicates 488 pages to a very specific Final Neolithic-Eneolithic period in the Pontic-Caspian steppe, and the most relevant parts of the book concern the nature and expansion of horses and horse domestication, horse-head scepters, and other horse-related symbology – arguably the most relevant cultural signs associated with Proto-Indo-European speakers in this period.

I haven’t had enough time to read the whole book, but I have read with interest certain important chapters.

About Scepters

Typological classification

The genetic and chronological relationship of horse-head pommel-scepters is classified with incredible detail, to the extent that one could divide subregions among those cultures using them.

Scheme of regional distribution – chronological – typological development of the carved horse-head stone scepters.

Simplified conclusions of this section include (emphasis mine):

  1. The [horse-head pommel-]scepters arose originally in the depth of the Khvalynsk culture. Following the now well-known finds, they are definitely related to those of the Middle Volga group.
  2. horse-head-pommel-scepters-distribution
    General scheme of genetic and chronological development of carved scepters by visual assessment of morphological details.
  3. In their next modifications, these scepters continued to evolve and develop into the area of the Khvalynsk culture in its latest stages, and possibly later.
  4. Simultaneously, with the same modifications, these scepters “are introduced” into common usage in the Novodanilovka culture, which in its spread by one wing was in contact and interspersed immediately with the area of Khvalynsk remains; and on the other hand, far in the south – in the Pre-Kuban and Ciscaucasian regions – within the range of the Domaikopska culture; and in the west – in the Carpathian – Post-Kuban – with the areas of early agricultural cultures Cucuteni A – Trypillia B1, Gumelnița-Karanovo VI.
  5. The simultaneous presence in the areas of the Ciscaucasian, Carpatho-Danubian, and especially Novodinilovka cultures, whose carriers continue the Khvalynian traditions of making stone scepters, and the scepters themselves (in their non-functional implication in the local cultural environment), all definitely allow us to view these findings as imported Novodanilovka objects.
Schematic depiction of the spread of horse-head scepters in the Middle Eneolithic. See a full version with notes here.

Cultural relevance of scepters

The text goes on to make an international comparison of scepters and their relevance as a cultural phenomenon, with its strong symbolic functions as divine object, its use in times of peace, in times of war, and in a system of ritual power.

Restoration of V. A. Dergachev: a) model for restoration – Paleolithic and Neolithic wands; b) the expected appearance of the Eneolithic scepter on the handle with a coupling (according to Dergachev 2007).
Especially interesting is the section dedicated to Agamemnon’s scepter in the Iliad, one of the oldest Indo-European epics. Here is an excerpt from Illiad II.100-110 (see here the Greek version) with the scepter’s human and divine genealogy:

Then among them lord Agamemnon uprose, bearing in his hands the sceptre which Hephaestus had wrought with toil. Hephaestus gave it to king Zeus, son of Cronos, and Zeus gave it to the messenger Argeïphontes; and Hermes, the lord, gave it to Pelops, driver of horses, and Pelops in turn gave it to Atreus, shepherd of the host; and Atreus at his death left it to Thyestes, rich in flocks, and Thyestes again left it to Agamemnon to bear, that so he might be lord of many isles and of all Argos.

About the horse

His studies on horse remains show an interesting, detailed quantitative and statistical approach to the importance and (cultural and chronological) origin of horses (and likely horse domestication) in each culture.

Although the part on horse remains is probably a bit outdated today, after many recent studies of Eneolithic steppe sites (see here one example), it still shows the relative distribution of horse bone remains among different steppe cultures, which is probably similar to what could be reported today:

Territorial distribution of horse remains in the Middle Eneolithic period. Absolute and relative numbers.

Even more interesting is the relationship of the distribution of horse remains with archaeological complexes and horse-related symbols. Some excerpts from the conclusions of this section:

  1. Accounting and analysis of archeo-zoological and archaeological data proper for a horse for a vast area from the Tisza and the Middle Danube to the Caucasus and the Urals (which includes the main cultures of the western agricultural, Caucasian, and Eastern European cultural zones) clearly points to the eastern cultural zone as a zone of the originally the most important social significance of a horse as the only possible zone of the earliest domestication, horseback riding and all-round use of a horse. In relation to the eastern, the western land – the ancient Carpatho-Danubian or the Caucasian cultural zones – are secondary and subordinate to the first on the phenomenon under consideration.
  2. horse-symbols
    Horse-shaped hanger-amulets made of bone.
  3. The first quantitative leap in the manifestation of the remnants of a horse, marking itself and the first qualitative changes in the social status of this animal, is due mainly to the Middle Volga culture of the developed Neolithic of the Middle Volga region (in part, the Southwest Urals), which, accordingly, determine the cultural context, time and geographic region – or, the initial, single and main epicenter of the process of taming and domestication of a horse.
  4. On the one hand, the subsequent substantial increase in the number of horse remnants, and, on the other, the wide inclusion of the horse in cults, rituals, funerary rituals (horse pendants, ornamented metacarpus, horse bones, sacrificial altars) in the Samara culture of the Early Eneolithic of the same region definitely indicates the continuing increase in the social significance of this species of animal, which was most likely expressed in the final design of a specialized horse breeding culture and, accordingly, in a wide range of applications using a horse for riding. At the same time, we can observe the beginning of the transfer of the already domesticated horse from the original historical and geographic epicenter to other cultures of the eastern cultural zone and, in part, the cultures closest to the periphery of this zone, into the western agricultural zone (Bolgrad-Aldeni P, Pre-CuCuteni-Trypillya A) .
  5. expansion-horse-steppe
    Schematic depiction of cultures and regional-chronological distribution of percentage of horse remains. (Depicted are arrows from Middle Volga and Samara culture to the rest)
  6. Middle Eneolithic – early stages. One of the leading places in the remnants of the horse is in the Middle Volga region, the Khvalynsk culture. Genetically related to the Samara, the Khvalynsk I culture preserves the traditions of the ritual, cultural meaning, the treatment of the image of a horse in funerals (altars, horse bones, funerary rituals). But, At the same time, it is in this precise culture that the image of the horse, included in the social symbolism (horse-head pommel-scepter), for the first time it acquires a special, maximum social significance. That is why the appearance and subsequent widespread distribution of the social symbols in Novodanilovka-type objects can definitely be considered as another qualitative leap in the social significance of a horse – its use for military purposes for close and distant expeditions. And such an interpretation is fully confirmed from the analysis of Novodanilovka-type objects, which is the subject of discussion.
  7. Judging by the osteological data and the typological evolution of the horse-head scepters, the Khvalynian culture and remains of the Novodanilovka type are already associated with the relatively widespread and intensive findings of domesticated horses in various areas of the eastern cultural zone (semi-desert regions of the Lower Volga and the Caspian region – Khvalynsk culture, forest-steppe and steppe from the Volga to the Dnieper – Sredni Stog, Repin cultures), and the western – agricultural (Gumelnitsa, Cucuteni A-Tripolye Bl), and the Caucasus (Pre-Maykop) zones, where, however, the horse played a very modest role.
  8. samara-khvalynsk-horses
    Schematic depiction of cultures and regional-chronological distribution of zooarchaeological and ritual data on horses. (Shadowed are from top to bottom the Middle Volga, Samara, Khvalynsk, and Novodanilovka; in bold, other percentages of unrelated cultures: e.g. to the left of Khvalynsk and Novodanilovka, Sredni Stog with 29.65% overall horse bone remains, but 0% of horse symbolism)
  9. From the functional point of view, according to the sum of the data, there is no reason to doubt that in the eastern zone the horse is already present in the Late Neolithic period. Since its domestication and the emergence of a specialized horse breeding, it has been also widely used for meat, milk and dairy products (including the traditional hippace tradition of the later Scythians), and since the beginning of the early Eneolithic for transport and for riding purposes. Another thing is the horse as a means of war, a means of distant travel and expansion. The beginning of the use of a horse for these purposes, in the opinion of the author, is determined by the appearance of social symbolism in the form of horse-head scepters, and is most fully reflected in the memories of the Khvalynsk culture and, in particular, the Novodanilovka type. Concerning western or Caucasian cultural zones related to Khvalynsk, the horse is thought to have been linked to the eastern region, used mainly for riding, as a means of transport and for communication, which, however, does not exclude its use for meat.

These are the main conclusions-interpretations, suggesting the analysis and archaeological and other sources containing information about the horse. And as for our pommel-scepters, then, as can be seen from these sources, the main thing is that the culture of the Middle Volga region, according to all the data, definitely accumulates in itself the longest traditions associated with the gradual increase of social significance of the horse. And if so, this circumstance motivates the possibility or necessity of appearing in the environment of the bearers of this culture of unique signs-symbols that carry within themselves or reflect the image of this animal as an extremely significant social reality. The revealed and characterized quality, as a matter of fact, fill or open by themselves the hypothetical elements we have previously identified, the meanings of that particularity, folded in the social sign-symbol, in our case – the horse-head-shaped scepter.

Archaeological sites with objects (signs-symbols) related to horses. Horse-head scepters included in other maps are excluded from this one (notice the conspicuous absence of such objects in Sredni Stog and neighbouring North Pontic regions).

The relevance of Dergachev’s work

As you certainly know by now if you are a usual reader of this blog, there were two other seminal publications that same year correcting and expanding Gimbutas’ model:

Each one of these works taken independently (especially the books) may give a different version of Proto-Indo-European migrations; Anthony and Dergachev are heirs of Gimbutas’ simplistic kurgan-based model, and of other previous, now rejected ideas, and they reflect them whenever they don’t deal with first-hand investigation (and even sometimes when interpreting their own data). Taken together – and especially in combination with recent genetic studies – , though, they describe a clearer, solider model of how Proto-Indo-Europeans developed and expanded.

Distribution of horse-head scepters, according to Dergachev, Sorokin (1986).

Anthony’s publication overshadowed the importance of Dergachev’s work for the English-speaking world – and by extension for the rest of us. However, V. A. Dergachev’s updated study of his previous work on steppe cultures shows the right, thorough, and diligent way of describing the expansion of early Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka chieftains with the horse and horse symbolism into the Caucasus and the Lower Danube (like the seminal work of Harrison & Heyd 2007 described the expansion of Yamna settlers with East Bell Beakers, culturally opposed to Corded Ware and to the Proto-Beakers). On the other hand, Anthony’s broad-brush, superficial description of thousands of years of potential Indo-European-speaking peoples gave a migration picture that – although generally right (like radiocarbon-based Iberian origin of the Bell Beaker culture was right) – was bound to be wrong in some essential details, as we are seeing in archaeology and genetics.

NOTE. As I have said before, Anthony’s interpretations of Sredni Stog culture representing a sort of ‘peasants’ under the rule of Novodanilovka chiefs was based on old theories of Telegin, who changed his mind – as did the rest of the Russian school well before the publication of Dergachev’s book, considering both as distinct cultural phenomena. Anthony selected the old interpretation, not to follow a Gimbutas / Kristiansen model of Sredni Stog being Indo-European and expanding with GAC into Corded Ware (because, for him, Corded Ware peoples were originally non-Indo-European speakers): he seems to have done it to prove that Proto-Anatolian traveled indeed through the North Pontic area, i.e. to avoid the regional ‘gap’ in the maps, if you like. Then with the expansion of Repin over the area, Sredni Stog peoples would have been absorbed. With genetic investigation, as we know, and with this kind of detailed archaeological studies, the traditional preference for “large and early” IE territories – proper of the mid-20th century – are no longer necessary.

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

Steppe Eneolithic

We already had in 2016 a Samara hunter-gatherer sample dated ca. 5600 BC, representative of EHG ancestry, of haplogroup R1b1a. We also had three early Khvalynsk samples from Samara Eneolithic dated ca. 4600 BC, with a drift towards (what we believe now is) a population from the Caucasus, showing haplogroups Q1a, R1a1(xM198), and R1b1a, the last one described in its paper as from a high-status burial, similar to high-status individuals buried under kurgans in later Yamna graves (of R1b-L23 lineages), and therefore likely a founder of an elite group of patrilineally-related families, while the R1a1 sample showed scarce decoration, and does not belong to the M417 lineage expanded later in Sredni Stog or Corded Ware.

In 2017 we knew of the Ukraine_Eneolithic sample I6561, from Alexandria, of a precise subclade (L657) of haplogroup R1a-Z93, dated ca. 4000 BC, and likely from the Sredni Stog (or maybe Kvitjana) culture. This sample alone makes it quite likely that the expansion of R1a-Z645 subclades happened earlier than expected, and that it was associated with movements along forest-steppe cultures, most likely along the Upper Dniester or Dnieper-Dniester corridor up to the Forest Zone.

We have now confirmation that Khvalynsk samples from the Yekaterinovka Cape settlement ca. 4250-4000 BC were reported by a genetic lab (to the archaeological team responsible) as being of R1b-L23 subclades, although the precise clades (reported as P312 and U106) are possibly not accurate.

NOTE. Curiously enough, and quite revealing for the close relationship of scepters to the ritual source of power for Khvalynsk chieftains (political and/or religious leaders), the scepter found in the elite burial 45 of the Ekaterinovka cape (a riverine settlement) shows a unique zoomorphic carving, possibly resembling a toothed fish or reptile, rather than the most common horse-related motifs of the time.

Zoomorphic carved stone scepter of the Ekaterinovka Cape burial 45: photos (left) and schematic depiction (right).

With Wang et al. (2018), a real game-changer in the Khvalynsk – Sredni Stog (and also in the Yamna/Bell Beaker – Corded Ware) opposition, we also know that two Steppe Eneolithic samples from the Northern Caucasus Piedmont, dated ca. 4300-4100 BC, show haplogroup R1b1. Although its direct connection to the expansion of early Khvalynsk with horse-related symbolism is not clear from the archaeological information shared (none), this is what the paper has to say about them:

The two distinct clusters are already visible in the oldest individuals of our temporal transect, dated to the Eneolithic period (~6300-6100 yBP/4300-4100 calBCE). Three individuals from the sites of Progress 2 and Vonjuchka 1 in the North Caucasus piedmont steppe (‘Eneolithic steppe’), which harbor Eastern and Caucasian hunter-gatherer related ancestry (EHG and CHG, respectively), are genetically very similar to Eneolithic individuals from Khalynsk II and the Samara region19, 27. This extends the cline of dilution of EHG ancestry via CHG/Iranian-like ancestry to sites immediately north of the Caucasus foothills.

In contrast, the oldest individuals from the northern mountain flank itself, which are three first degree-related individuals from the Unakozovskaya cave associated with the Darkveti-Meshoko Eneolithic culture (analysis label ‘Eneolithic Caucasus’) show mixed ancestry mostly derived from sources related to the Anatolian Neolithic (orange) and CHG/Iran Neolithic (green) in the ADMIXTURE plot (Fig. 2C). While similar ancestry profiles have been reported for Anatolian and Armenian Chalcolithic and Bronze Age individuals20, 23, this result suggests the presence of the mixed Anatolian/Iranian/CHG related ancestry north of the Great Caucasus Range as early as ~6500 years ago.

On the specific burials, we have e.g. the recent open access paper New cases of trepanations from the 5th to 3rd millennia BC in Southern Russia in the context of previous research: Possible evidence for a ritually motivated tradition of cranial surgery?, by Gresky et al. J Am Phys Anthropol (2016):

During the late 5th millennium BC, cultural groups of the Eneolithic occupied the northern circumpontic area and the areas between the North Caucasus and the Lower Volga. For the first time, individual inhumations were placed below low burial mounds (Rassamakin, 2011). During the 4th millennium BC, the area split into two cultural spheres. In the northern steppe area communities continued with the burial practice of crouched inhumations below low mounds, with this culturally transforming into the early Pit Grave culture. In contrast, in the Caucasian foothill zone and the neighbouring steppe, the Majkop-Novosvobodnaya culture emerged (Kohl and Trifonov, 2014). Similarly, during the 3rd millennium BC, two cultural spheres influenced the area: The North Caucasian Culture dominated the Caucasian foothills for the next five centuries, while in the steppe area between the Lower Don and the Caucasus, regional groups of the Catacomb Culture existed side-by-side.

Burials of the Eneolithic epoch (late 5th millennium BC)

The oldest group of individuals with trepanations are found in the North Caucasian variant of the late circumpontic Eneolithic and date to the last third of the 5th millennium BC (Korenevsky, 2012). Burials of this epoch are inhumations in shallow pits, chiefly without burial goods, but covered with large quantities of red ochre. Of special interest is a collective burial of seven individuals from VP 1/12, who were interred together in a secondary burial ritual. The sites of Tuzluki, Mukhin, Voinuchka, Progress, and Sengileevskii all belong to this period.

Image modified from Wang et al. (2018). Samples projected in PCA of 84 modern-day West Eurasian populations (open symbols). Previously known clusters have been marked and referenced. An EHG and a Caucasus ‘clouds’ have been drawn, leaving Pontic-Caspian steppe and derived groups between them.See the original file here.

Without the datasets to test different models, you can only imagine what is happening with the processed, secondary data we have. The position of Eneolithic Steppe cluster in the PCA (probably Khvalynsk-related peoples already influenced by the absorbed, previous Caucasus population), as well as other potential Caucasus groups intermediate between Steppe Maykop and Caucasus Maykop (as suggested by other ancient and modern Caucasus samples), may indicate that Yamna is between Khvalynsk and such intermediate Caucasus populations (as the source of the additional CHG-related ancestry) and – as the paper itself states – that it also received additional EEF contribution, probably from the western cultures absorbed during these Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka migrations (or later during Khvalynsk/Repin migrations).

Also interpreted in light of these early Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka migrations of horse riding chieftains (and their close contacts with the Caucasus), you can clearly see where the similar CHG-like contribution to Ukraine Eneolithic and other North Pontic forest-steppe cultures (which later contributed to Proto-Corded Ware peoples) must have come from. The simplistically reported proportions of EHG:CHG:EEF ancestry might be similar in many of these groups, but the precise origin and evolution of such ancestral components is certainly not the same: statistical methods will eventually show this, when (and if) we have many more samples, but for the moment Y-DNA is the most obvious indicator of such differences.

There was no steppe people speaking a steppe language AKA immutable Proto-Indo-European: the glottochronological models spanning thousands of years are not valid for the steppe, just as they are not valid for an Anatolian homeland, nor for a Caucasus homeland. The actual cultural-historical early Sredni Stog – Khvalynsk community, formed earlier than ca. 5000 BC, is a thousand years older than the expansion of Khvalynsk with the horse, and some two thousand years older than the expansion of Khvalynsk-Repin/Early Yamna migrants (see here for the latest genetic research).

What lies between the formation of that early Eneolithic cultural-historical community, and what we see in archaeology and genetics in Middle and Late Eneolithic steppe cultures, is the radical differentiation of western (Ukraine Eneolithic, mainly forest-steppe) and eastern (Samara and Khvalynsk/Repin, mainly steppe) cultures and peoples, i.e. precisely the period of differentiation of an eastern, Proto-Indo-Hittite-speaking early Khvalynsk community (that expanded with the horse and horse-related symbols) from a western, probably Early Proto-Uralic speaking community of the North Pontic forest-steppe cultural area.

NOTE. I am not against a Neolithic ‘steppe’ language. But this steppe language was spoken before and/or during the first Neolithisation wave, and should be associated with Indo-Uralic. If there was no Indo-Uralic language, then some communities would have developed Early Proto-Indo-European and Early Proto-Uralic side by side, in close contact to allow for dozens of loanwords or wanderwords to be dated to this period (where, simplistically, PIH *H corresponds to EPU *k, with some exceptions).

Map of a) steppe – forest-steppe border during the Eneolithic in the Pontic-Caspian region and b) the border today, showing a more limited steppe zone in the North Pontic area (reason for the specific ways of expansion of horse-related cultures and horse-related nomadic pastoralism during the Eneolithic).

The convergence that we see in PCA and Admixture of Yamna and the earliest Baltic LN / Corded Ware ‘outlier’ samples (if not directly related exogamy of some Baltic LN/CWC groups with Yamna migrants, e.g. those along the Prut), must be traced back to the period of genetic drift that began precisely with these Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka expansions, also closely associated with populations of the Caucasus, thus bringing North Pontic forest-steppe cultures (probably behind Proto-Corded Ware peoples) nearer to Khvalynsk, and both by extension to Yamna.

We have seen this problem arise in Bell Beaker samples expanding all over Europe, turning from a fully Yamnaya-like population to something else entirely in different regions, from more EEF-like to more CWC-like, sharing one common trait: Y-DNA. We are seeing the same happen with Balkan groups and Mycenaeans, with Old Hittites, and with steppe MLBA from Andronovo peoples expanding over Central and South Asia, and we know that patrilineal clans and thus Y-chromosome bottlenecks were common after Neolithisation, especially with nomadic pastoralist steppe clans (and probably also with many previous population expansions).

Steppe Eneolithic peoples were thus no different to other previous and posterior expanding groups, and ancestry is going to be similar for people living in neighbouring regions, so Y-DNA will remain the essential tool to distinguish different peoples (see here a summary of Proto-Indo-Europeans expanding R1b-L23).

We are nevertheless still seeing “R1b zombies” (a quite appropriate name I read on Anthrogenica) still arguing for a Western European origin of R1b-L23 based on EEF-like ancestry and few steppe-related contribution found in Iberian Bell Beakers (read what David Reich has to say on this question); and “OIT zombies” still arguing for IVC representing Proto-Indo-European, based on Iran_N ancestry and the minimal steppe ancestry-related impact on certain ancient Asian cultures, now partly helped by “Caucasus homeland zombies” with the new PIE=CHG model; apart from many other pet theory zombies rising occasionally from their graves here and there. Let’s hope that this virus of the undead theories does not spread too strongly to the R1a-Indo-European association, when the official data on Khvalynsk, West Yamna, and Yamna Hungary come out and show that they were dominated by R1b-L23 lineages.

Because we need to explore in detail the continuation of Khvalynsk-related (potential Proto-Anatolian) cultures in the Lower Danube and the Balkans, e.g. from Cernavoda I to Cernavoda III, then maybe to Ezero, and then to Troy; as well as the specific areas of Late Indo-European expansions associated with Early Yamna settlers turning into Bell Beakers, Balkan EBA, and Steppe MLBA-associated cultures. There is a lot of work to do on proper definition of Bronze Age cultures and their potential dialects, as well as convergence and divergence trends, and not only of Indo-European, but also of Uralic-speaking communities derived from Corded Ware cultures.

If we let the narratives of the 2000s in Genetics (in combination with the 1960s in Archaeology) dominate the conversation, then a lot of time will be absurdly lost until reality imposes itself. And it will.

EDIT (2 JUL 2018): Some sentences corrected, and some information added to the original post.


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


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

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

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

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

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

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

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

Early Chalcolithic migrations (3100-2600 BC)

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

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

Late Chalcolithic migrations (2600-2250 BC)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Early Bronze Age migrations (2600-2250 BC)

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

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

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

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

See also