Yamnaya replaced Europeans, but admixed heavily as they spread to Asia


Recent papers The formation of human populations in South and Central Asia, by Narasimhan, Patterson et al. Science (2019) and An Ancient Harappan Genome Lacks Ancestry from Steppe Pastoralists or Iranian Farmers, by Shinde et al. Cell (2019).

NOTE. For direct access to Narasimhan, Patterson et al. (2019), visit this link courtesy of the first author and the Reich Lab.

I am currently not on holidays anymore, and the information in the paper is huge, with many complex issues raised by the new samples and analyses rather than solved, so I will stick to the Indo-European question, especially to some details that have changed since the publication of the preprint. For a summary of its previous findings, see the book series A Song of Sheep and Horses, in particular the sections from A Clash of Chiefs where I discuss languages and regions related to Central and South Asia.

I have updated the maps of the Preshistory Atlas, and included the most recently reported mtDNA and Y-DNA subclades. I will try to update the Eurasian PCA and related graphics, too.

NOTE. Many subclades from this paper have been reported by Kolgeh (download), Pribislav and Principe at Anthrogenica on this thread. I have checked some out for comparison, but even if it contradicted their analyses mine would be the wrong ones. I will upload my spreadsheets and link to them from this page whenever I find the time.

Ancestry clines (1) before and (2) after the advent of farming. Colour modified from the original to emphasize the CHG cline: notice the apparent relevance of forest-steppe groups in the formation of this CHG mating network from which Pre-Yamnaya peoples emerged.


I think the Narasimhan, Patterson et al. (2019) paper is well-balanced, and unexpectedly centered – as it should – on the spread of Yamnaya-related ancestry (now Western_Steppe_EMBA) as the marker of Proto-Indo-European migrations, which stretched ca. 3000 BC “from Hungary in the west to the Altai mountains in the east”, spreading later Indo-European dialects after admixing with local groups, from the Atlantic to South Asia.

I. Afanasievo

I.1. East or West PIE?

I expected Afanasievo to show (1) R1b-L23(xZ2103, xL51) and (2) R1b-L51 lineages, apart from (3) the known R1b-Z2103 ones, pointing thus to an ancestral PIE community before the typical Yamnaya bottlenecks, and with R1b-L51 supporting a connection with North-West Indo-European. The presence of some samples of hg. Q pointed in this direction, too.

However, Afanasievo samples show overwhelmingly R1b-Z2103 subclades (all except for those with low coverage), all apparently under R1b-Z2108 (formed ca. 3500 BC, TMRCA ca. 3500 BC), like most samples from East Yamnaya.

This necessarily shifts the split and spread of R1b-L23 lineages to Khvalynsk/early Repin-related expansions, in line with what TMRCA suggested, and what advances by Anthony (2019) and Khokhlov (2018) on future samples from the Reich Lab suggest.

Given the almost indistinguishable ancestry between Afanasievo and Early Yamnaya, there seems to be as of yet little potential information to support in population genomics that Pre-Tocharians were more closely related to North-West Indo-Europeans than to Graeco-Aryans, as it is proposed in linguistics based on the few shared traits between them, and the lack of innovations proper of the Graeco-Aryan community.

NOTE. A new issue of Wekʷos contains an abstract from a relevant paper by Blažek on vocabulary for ‘word’, including the common NWIE *wrdʰo-/wordʰo-, but also a new (for me, at least) Northern Indo-European one: *rēki-/*rēkoi̯-, shared by Slavic and Tocharian.

The fact that bottlenecks happened around the time of the late Repin expansion suggests that we might be able to see different clans based on the predominant lineages developing around the Don-Volga area in the 4th millennium BC. The finding of Pre-R1b-L51 in Lopatino (see below), and of a Catacomb sample of hg. R1b-Z2103(Z2105-) in the North Caucasus steppe near Novoaleksandrovskij also support a star-like phylogeny of R1b-L23 stemming from the Don-Volga area.

NOTE. Interestingly, a dismissal of a common trunk between Tocharian and North-West Indo-European would mean that shared similarities between such disparate groups could be traced back to a Common Late PIE trunk, and not to a shared (western) Repin community. For an example of such a ‘pure’ East-West dialectal division, see the diagram of Adams & Mallory (2007) at the end of the post. It would thus mean a fatal blow to Kortlandt’s Indo-Slavonic group among other hypothetical groupings (remade versions of the ancient Centum-Satem division), as well as to certain assumptions about laryngeal survival or tritectalism that usually accompany them. Still, I don’t think this is the case, so the question will remain a linguistic one, and maybe some similarities will be found with enough number of samples that differentiate Northern Indo-Europeans from the East Yamna/Catacomb-Poltavka-Balkan_EBA group.

Y-chromosome haplogroups of Afanasievo samples and neighbouring groups. See full maps.

I.2. Expansion or resurgence of hg. Q1b?

Haplogroup Q1b-Y6802(xY6798) seems to be the main lineage that expanded with Afanasievo, or resurged in their territory. It’s difficult to tell, because the three available samples are family, and belong to a later period.

NOTE. I have finally put some order to the chaos of Q1a vs. Q1b subclades in my spreadsheet and in the maps. The change of ISOGG 2016 to 2017 has caused that many samples reported as of Q1 subclades from papers prepared during the 2017-2018 period, and which did not provide specific SNP calls, were impossible to define with certainty. By checking some of them I could determine the specific standard used.

In favour of the presence of this haplogroup in the Pre-Yamnaya community are:

  • The statement by Anthony (2019) that Q1a [hence maybe Q1b in the new ISOGG nomenclature] represented a significant minority among an R1b-rich community.
  • The sample found in a Sintastha WSHG outlier (see below), of hg. Q1b-Y6798, and the sample from Lola, of hg. Q1b-L717, are thus from other lineage(s) separated thousands of years from the Afanasievo subclade, but might be related to the Khvalynsk expansion, like R1b-V1636 and R1b-M269 are.

These are the data that suggest multiple resurgence events in Afanasievo, rather than expanding Q1b lineages with late Repin:

  • Overwhelming presence of R1b in early Yamnaya and Afanasievo samples; one Q1(xQ1b) sample reported in Khvalynsk.
  • The three Q1b samples appear only later, although wide CI for radiocarbon dates, different sites, and indistinguishable ancestry may preclude a proper interpretation of the only available family.
    • Nevertheless, ancestry seems unimportant in the case of Afanasievo, since the same ancestry is found up to the Iron Age in a community of varied haplogroups.
  • Another sample of hg. Q1b-Y6802(xY6798) is found in Aigyrzhal_BA (ca. 2120 BC), with Central_Steppe_EMBA (WSHG-related) ancestry; however, this clade formed and expanded ca. 14000 BC.
  • The whole Altai – Baikal area seems to be a Q1b-L54 hotspot, although admittedly many subclades separated very early from each other, so they might be found throughout North Eurasia during the Neolithic.
  • One Afanasievo sample is reported as of hg. C in Shin (2017), and the same haplogroup is reported by Hollard (2014) for the only available sample of early Chemurchek to date, from Kulala ula, North Altai (ca. 2400 BC).
Y-chromosome haplogroups of late Afanasievo – early Chemurchek samples and neighbouring groups. See full maps.

I.3. Agricultural substrate

Evidence of continuous contacts of Central_Steppe_MLBA populations with BMAC from ca. 2100 BC on – visible in the appearance of Steppe ancestry among BMAC samples and BMAC ancestry among Steppe pastoralists – supports the close interaction between Indo-Iranian pastoralists and BMAC agriculturalists as the origin of the Asian agricultural substrate found in Proto-Indo-Iranian, hence likely related to the language of the Oxus Civilization.

Similar to the European agricultural substrate adopted by West Yamnaya settlers (both NWIE and Palaeo-Balkan speakers), Tocharian shows a few substrate terms in common with Indo-Iranian, which can be explained by contacts in different dialectal stages through phonetic reconstruction alone.

The recent Hermes et al. (2019) supports the early integration of pastoralism and millet cultivation in Central Asia (ca. 2700 BC or earlier), with the spread of agriculture to the north – through the Inner Asian Mountain Corridor – being thus unrelated to the Indo-Iranian expansions, which might support independent loans.

However, compared to the huge number of parallel shared loans between NWIE and Palaeo-Balkan languages in the European substratum, Indo-Iranians seem to have been the first borrowers of vocabulary from Asian agriculturalists, while Proto-Tocharian shows just one certain related word, with phonetic similarities that warrant an adoption from late Indo-Iranian dialects.

Y-chromosome haplogroups of Sintashta, Central Asia, and neighbouring groups in the Early Bronze Age. See full maps.

The finding of hg. (pre-)R1b-PH155 in a BMAC sample from Dzharkutan (to the west of Xinjiang) together with hg. R1b in a sample from Central Mongolia previously reported by Shin (2017) support the widespread presence of this lineage to the east and west of Xinjiang, which means it might have become incorporated to Indo-Iranian migrants into the Xiaohe horizon, to the Afanasievo-Chemurchek-derived groups, or the later from the former. In other words, the Island Biogeography Theory with its explanation of founder effects might be, after all, applicable to the whole Xinjiang area, not only during the Chemurchek – Tianshan-Beilu – Xiaohe interaction.

Of course, there is no need for too complicated models of haplogroup resurgence events in Central and South Asia, seeing how the total amount of hg. R1a-L657 (today prevalent among Indo-Aryan speakers from South Asia) among ancient Western/Central_Steppe_MLBA-related samples amounts to a total of 0, and that many different lineages survived in the region. Similar cases of haplogroup resurgence and Y-DNA bottleneck events are also found in the Central and Eastern Mediterranean, and in North-Eastern Europe. From the paper:

[It] could reflect stronger ecological or cultural barriers to the spread of people in South Asia than in Europe, allowing the previously established groups more time to adapt and mix with incoming groups. A second difference is the smaller proportion of Steppe pastoralist– related ancestry in South Asia compared with Europe, its later arrival by ~500 to 1000 years, and a lower (albeit still significant) male sex bias in the admixture (…).

Y-chromosome haplogroups of samples from the Srubna-Andronovo and Andronovo-related horizon, Xiaohe, late BMAC, and neighbouring groups. See full maps.

II. R1b-Beakers replaced R1a-CWC peoples

II.1. R1a-M417-rich Corded Ware

Newly reported Corded Ware samples from Radovesice show hg. R1a-M417, at least some of them xZ645, ‘archaic’ lineages shared with the early Bergrheinfeld sample (ca. 2650 BC) and with the coeval Esperstedt family, hence supporting that it eventually became the typical Western Corded Ware lineage(s), probably dominating over the so-called A-horizon and the Single Grave culture in particular. On the other hand, R1a-Z645 was typical of bottlenecks among expanding Eastern Corded Ware groups.

Interestingly, it is supported once again that known bottlenecks under hg. R1a-M417 happened during the Corded Ware expansion, evidenced also by the remarkable high variability of male lineages among early Corded Ware samples. Similarly, these Corded Ware samples from Bohemia form part of the typical ‘Central European’ cluster in the PCA, which excludes once again not only the ‘official’ Espersted outlier I1540, but also the known outlier with Yamnaya ancestry.

NOTE. The fact that Esperstedt is closely related geographically and in terms of ancestry to later Únětice samples further complicates the assumption that Únětice is a mixture of Bell Beakers and Corded Ware, being rather an admixture of incoming Bell Beakers with post-Yamnaya vanguard settlers who admixed with Corded Ware (see more on the expansion of Yamnaya ancestry). In other words, Únětice is rather an admixture of Yamnaya+EEF with Yamnaya+(CWC+EEF).

Y-chromosome haplogroups of samples from Catacomb, Poltavka, Balkan EBA, and Bell Beaker, as well as neighbouring groups. See full maps.

On Ukraine_Eneolithic I6561

If the bottlenecks are as straightforward as they appear, with a star-like phylogeny of R1a-M417 starting with the Pre-Corded Ware expansion, then what is happening with the Alexandria sample, so precisely radiocarbon dated to ca. 4045-3974 BC? The reported hg. R1a-M417 was fully compatible, while R1a-Z645 could be compatible with its date, but the few positive SNPs I got in my analysis point indeed to a potential subclade of R1a-Z94, and I trust more experienced hobbyists in this ‘art’ of ascertaining the SNPs of ancient samples, and they report hg. R1a-Z93 (Z95+, Y26+, Y2-).

Seeing how Y-DNA bottlenecks worked in Yamnaya-Afanasievo and in Corded Ware and related groups, and if this sample really is so deep within R1a-Z93 in a region that should be more strongly affected by the known Neolithic Y-chromosome bottlenecks and forest-steppe ecotone, someone from the lab responsible for this sample should check its date once again, before more people keep chasing their tails with an individual that (based on its derived SNPs’ TMRCA) might actually be dated to the Bronze Age, where it could make much more sense in terms of ancestry and position in the PCA.

EDIT (14 SEP 2019): … and with the fact that he is the first individual to show the genetic adaptation for lactase persistence (I3910-T), which is only found later among Bell Beakers, and much later in Sintashta and related Steppe_MLBA peoples (see comments below).

This is also evidenced by the other Ukraine_Eneolithic (likely a late Yamnaya) sample of hg. R1b-Z2103 from Dereivka (ca. 2800 BC) and who – despite being in a similar territory 1,000 years later – shows a wholly diluted Yamnaya ancestry under typically European HG ancestry, even more so than other late Sredni Stog samples from Dereivka of ca. 3600-3400 BC, suggesting a decrease in Steppe ancestry rather than an increase – which is supposedly what should be expected based on the ancestry from Alexandria…

Like the reported Chalcolithic individual of Hajji Firuz who showed an apparently incompatible subclade and Yamnaya ancestry at least some 1,000 years before it should, and turned out to be from the Iron Age (see below), this may be another case of wrong radiocarbon dating.

NOTE. It would be interesting, if this turns out to be another Hajji Firuz-like error, to check how well different ancestry models worked in whose hands exactly, and if anyone actually pointed out that this sample was derived, and not ancestral, to many different samples that were used in combination with it. It would also be a great control to check if those still supporting a Sredni Stog origin for PIE would shift their preference even more to the north or west, depending on where the first “true” R1a-M417 samples popped up. Such a finding now could be thus a great tool to discover whether haplogroup-based bias plays a role in ancestry magic as related to the Indo-European question, i.e. if it really is about “pure statistics”, or there is something else to it…

II.1. R1b-L51-rich Bell Beakers

The overwhelming majority of R1b-L51 lineages in Radovesice during the Bell Beaker period, just after the sampled Corded Ware individuals from the same site, further strengthen the hypothesis of an almost full replacement of R1a-M417 lineages from Central Europe up to southern Scandinavia after the arrival of Bell Beakers.

Yet another R1b-L151* sample has popped up in Central Europe, in the individual classified as Bilina_BA (ca. 2200-800 BC), which clusters with Bell Beakers from Bohemia, with the outlier from Turlojiškė, and with Early Slavs, suggesting once again that a group of central-east European Beakers represented the Pre-Proto-Balto-Slavic community before their spread and admixture events to the east.

The available ancient distribution of R1b-L51*, R1b-L52* or R1b-L151* is getting thus closer to the most likely origin of R1b-L51 in the expansion of East Bell Beakers, who trace their paternal ancestors to Yamnaya settlers from the Carpathian Basin:

NOTE. Some of these are from other sources, and some are samples I have checked in a hurry, so I may have missed some derived SNPs. If you send me a corrected SNP call to dismiss one of these, or more ‘archaic’ samples, I’ll correct the map accordingly. See also maps of modern distributionof R1b-M269 subclades .

Distribution of ‘archaic’ R1b-L51 subclades in ancient samples, overlaid over a map of Yamnaya and Bell Beaker migrations. In blue, Yamnaya Pre-L51 from Lopatino (not shown) and R1b-L52* from BBC Augsburg. In violet, R1b-L51 (xP312,xU106) from BBC Prague and Poland. In maroon, hg. R1b-L151* from BBC Hungary, BA Bohemia, and (not shown) a potential sample from BBC at Mondelange, which is certainly xU106, maybe xP312. Interestingly, the earliest sample of hg. R1b-U106 (a lineage more proper of northern Europe) has been found in a Bell Beaker from Radovesice (ca. 2350 BC), between two of these ‘archaic’ R1b-L51 samples; and a sample possibly of hg. R1b-ZZ11+ (ancestral to DF27 and U152) was found in a Bell Beaker from Quedlinburg, Germany (ca. 2290 BC), to the north-west of Bohemia. The oldest R1b-U152 are logically from Central Europe, too.

III. Proto-Indo-Iranian

Before the emergence of Proto-Indo-Iranian, it seems that Pre-Proto-Indo-Iranian-speaking Poltavka groups were subjected to pressure from Central_Steppe_EMBA-related peoples coming from the (south-?)east, such as those found sampled from Mereke_BA. Their ‘kurgan’ culture was dated correctly to approximately the same date as Poltavka materials, but their ancestry and hg. N2(pre-N2a) – also found in a previous sample from Botai – point to their intrusive nature, and thus to difficulties in the Pre-Proto-Indo-Iranian community to keep control over the previous East Yamnaya territory in the Don-Volga-Ural steppes.

We know that the region does not show genetic continuity with a previous period (or was not under this ‘eastern’ pressure) because of an Eastern Yamnaya sample from the same site (ca. 3100 BC) showing typical Yamnaya ancestry. Before Yamnaya, it is likely that Pre-Yamnaya ancestry formed through admixture of EHG-like Khvalynsk with a North Caspian steppe population similar to the Steppe_Eneolithic samples from the North Caucasus Piedmont (see Anthony 2019), so we can also rule out some intermittent presence of a Botai/Kelteminar-like population in the region during the Khvalynsk period.

It is very likely, then, that this competition for the same territory – coupled with the known harsher climate of the late 3rd millennium BC – led Poltavka herders to their known joint venture with Abashevo chiefs in the formation of the Sintashta-Potapovka-Filatovka community of fortified settlements. Supporting these intense contacts of Poltavka herders with Central Asian populations, late ‘outliers’ from the Volga-Ural region show admixture with typical Central_Steppe_MLBA populations: one in Potapovka (ca. 2220 BC), of hg. R1b-Z2103; and four in the Sintashta_MLBA_o1 cluster (ca. 2050-1650 BC), with two samples of hg. R1b-L23 (one R1b-Z2109), one Q1b-L56(xL53), one Q1b-Y6798.

Outlier analysis reveals ancient contacts between sites. We plot the average of principal component 1 (x axis) and principal component 2 (y axis) for the West Eurasian and All Eurasian PCA plots (…). In the Middle to Late Bronze Age Steppe, we observe, in addition to the Western_Steppe_MLBA and Central_Steppe_MLBA clusters (indistinguishable in this projection), outliers admixed with other ancestries. The BMAC-related admixture in Kazakhstan documents northward gene flow onto the Steppe and confirms the Inner Asian Mountain Corridor as a conduit for movement of people.

Similar to how the Sintashta_MLBA_o2 cluster shows an admixture with central steppe populations and hg. R1a-Z645, the WSHG ancestry in those outliers from the o1 cluster of typically (or potentially) Yamnaya lineages show that Poltavka-like herders survived well after centuries of Abashevo-Poltavka coexistence and admixture events, supporting the formation of a Proto-Indo-Iranian community from the local language as pronounced by the incomers, who dominated as elites over the fortified settlements.

The Proto-Indo-Iranian community likely formed thus in situ in the Don-Volga-Ural region, from the admixture of locals of Yamnaya ancestry with incomers of Corded Ware ancestry – represented by the ca. 67% Yamnaya-like ancestry and ca. 33% ancestry from the European cline. Their community formed thus ca. 1,000 years later than the expansion of Late PIE ca. 3500 BC, and expanded (some 500 years after that) a full-fledged Proto-Indo-Iranian language with the Srubna-Andronovo horizon, further admixing with ca. 9% of Central_Steppe_EMBA (WSHG-related) ancestry in their migration through Central Asia, as reported in the paper.

IV. Armenian

The sample from Hajji Firuz, of hg. R1b-Z2103 (xPF331), has been – as expected – re-dated to the Iron Age (ca. 1193-1019 BC), hence it may offer – together with the samples from the Levant and their Aegean-like ancestry rapidly diluted among local populations – yet another proof of how the Late Bronze Age upheaval in Europe was the cause of the Armenian migration to the Armenoid homeland, where they thrived under the strong influence from Hurro-Urartian.

Y-chromosome haplogroups of the Middle East and neighbouring groups during the Late Bronze Age / Iron Age. See full maps.

Indus Valley Civilization and Dravidian

A surprise came from the analysis reported by Shinde et al. (2019) of an Iran_N-related IVC ancestry which may have split earlier than 10000 BC from a source common to Iran hunter-gatherers of the Belt Cave.

For the controversial Elamo-Dravidian hypothesis of the Muscovite school, this difference in ancestry between both groups (IVC and Iran Neolithic) seems to be a death blow, if population genomics was even needed for that. Nevertheless, I guess that a full rejection of a recent connection will come down to more recent and subtle population movements in the area.

EDIT (12 SEP): Apparently, Iosif Lazaridis is not so sure about this deep splitting of ‘lineages’ as shown in the paper, so we may be talking about different contributions of AME+ANE/ENA, which means the Elamo-Dravidian game is afoot; at least in genomics:

I shared the idea that the Indus Valley Civilization was linked to the Proto-Dravidian community, so I’m inclined to support this statement by Narasimhan, Patterson, et al. (2019), even if based only on modern samples and a few ancient ones:

The strong correlation between ASI ancestry and present-day Dravidian languages suggests that the ASI, which we have shown formed as groups with ancestry typical of the Indus Periphery Cline moved south and east after the decline of the IVC to mix with groups with more AASI ancestry, most likely spoke an early Dravidian language.

Natural neighbour interpolation of qpAdm results – Maximum A Posteriori Estimate from the Hierarchical Model (estimates used in the Narasimhan, Patterson et al. 2019 figures) for Central_Steppe_MLBA-related (left), Indus_Periphery_West-related (center) and Andamanese_Hunter-Gatherer-related ancestry (right) among sampled modern Indian populations. In blue, peoples of IE language; in red, Dravidian; in pink, Tibeto-Burman; in black, unclassified. See full image.

I am wary of this sort of simplistic correlation with modern speakers, because we have seen what happened with the wrong assumptions about modern Balto-Slavic and Finno-Ugric speakers and their genetic profile (see e.g. here or here). In fact, I just can’t differentiate as well as those with deep knowledge in South Asian history the social stratification of the different tribal groups – with their endogamous rules under the varna and jati systems – in the ancestry maps of modern India. The pattern of ancestry and language distribution combined with the findings of ancient populations seem in principle straightforward, though.


The message to take home from Shinde et al. (2019) is that genomic data is fully at odds with the Anatolian homeland hypothesis – including the latest model by Heggarty (2014)* – whose relevance is still overvalued today, probably due in part to the shift of OIT proponents to more reasonable Out-of-Iran models, apparently more fashionable as a vector of Indo-Aryan languages than Eurasian steppe pastoralists?
*The authors listed this model erroneously as Heggarty (2019).

The paper seems to play with the occasional reference to Corded Ware as a vector of expansion of Indo-European languages, even after accepting the role of Yamnaya as the most evident population expanding Late PIE to western Europe – and the different ancestry that spread with Indo-Iranian to South Asia 1,000 years later. However, the most cringe-worthy aspect is the sole citation of the debunked, pseudoscientific glottochronological method used by Ringe, Warnow, and Taylor (2002) to support the so-called “steppe homeland”, a paper and dialectal scheme which keeps being referenced in papers of the Reich Lab, probably as a consequence of its use in Anthony (2007).

On the other hand, these are the equivalent simplistic comments in Narasimhan, Patterson et al. (2019):

The Steppe ancestry in South Asia has the same profile as that in Bronze Age Eastern Europe, tracking a movement of people that affected both regions and that likely spread the unique features shared between Indo-Iranian and Balto-Slavic languages. (…), which despite their vast geographic separation share the “satem” innovation and “ruki” sound laws.

Indo-European dialectal relationships, from Mallory and Adams (2006).

The only academic closely related to linguistics from the list of authors, as far as I know, is James P. Mallory, who has supported a North-West Indo-European dialect (including Balto-Slavic) for a long time – recently associating its expansion with Bell Beakers – opposed thus to a Graeco-Aryan group which shared certain innovations, “Satemization” not being one of them. Not that anyone needs to be a linguist to dismiss any similarities between Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian beyond this phonetic trend, mind you.

Even Anthony (2019) supports now R1b-rich Pre-Yamnaya and Yamnaya communities from the Don-Volga region expanding Middle and Late Proto-Indo-European dialects.

So how does the underlying Corded Ware ancestry of eastern Europe (where Pre-Balto-Slavs eventually spread to from Bell Beaker-derived groups) and of the highly admixed (“cosmopolitan”, according to the authors) Sintashta-Potapovka-Filatovka in the east relate to the similar-but-different phonetic trends of two unrelated IE dialects?

If only there was a language substrate that could (as Shinde et al. put it) “elegantly” explain this similar phonetic evolution, solving at the same time the question of the expansion of Uralic languages and their strong linguistic contacts with steppe peoples. Say, Eneolithic populations of mainly hunter-fisher-gatherers from the North Pontic forest-steppes with a stronger connection to metalworking


North-West Indo-Europeans of Iberian Beaker descent and haplogroup R1b-P312


The recent data on ancient DNA from Iberia published by Olalde et al. (2019) was interesting for many different reasons, but I still have the impression that the authors – and consequently many readers – focused on not-so-relevant information about more recent population movements, or even highlighted the least interesting details related to historical events.

I have already written about the relevance of its findings for the Indo-European question in an initial assessment, then in a more detailed post about its consequences, then about the arrival of Celtic languages with hg. R1b-M167, and later in combination with the latest hydrotoponymic research.

This post is thus a summary of its findings with the help of natural neighbour interpolation maps of the reported Germany_Beaker and France_Beaker ancestry for individual samples. Even though maps are not necessary, visualizing geographically the available data facilitates a direct comprehension of the most relevant information. What I considered key points of the paper are highlighted in bold, and enumerated.

NOTE. To get “more natural” maps, extrapolation for the whole Iberian Peninsula is obtained by interpolation through the use of external data from the British Isles, Central Europe, and Africa. This is obviously not ideal, but – lacking data from the corners of the Iberian Peninsula – this method gives a homogeneous look to all maps. Only data in direct line between labelled samples in each map is truly interpolated for the Iberian Peninsula, while the rest would work e.g. for a wider (and more simplistic) map of European Bronze Age ancestry components.


Iberian Chalcolithic groups and expansion of the Proto-Beaker package. See full map.

The Proto-Beaker package may or may not have expanded into Central Europe with typical Iberia_Chalcolithic ancestry. A priori, it seems a rather cultural diffusion of traits stemming from west Iberia roughly ca. 2800 BC.

Map of Y-DNA haplogroups among Iberia Chalcolithic samples. See full map.

The situation during the Chalcolithic is only relevant for the Indo-European question insofar as it shows a homogeneous Iberia_Chalcolithic-like ancestry with typical Y-chromosome (and mtDNA) haplogroups of the Iberian Neolithic dominating over the whole Peninsula until about 2500 BC. This might represent an original Basque-Iberian community.

Map of mtDNA haplogroups among Iberia Chalcolithic samples. See full map.

Bell Beaker period

Iberian Bell Beaker groups and potential routes of expansion. See full map.

The expansion of the Bell Beaker folk brought about a cultural and genetic change in all Europe, to the point where it has been rightfully considered by Mallory (2013) – the last one among many others before him – the vector of expansion of North-West Indo-European languages. Olalde et al. (2019) proved two main points in this regard, which were already hinted in Olalde et al. (2018):

(1) East Bell Beakers brought hg. R1b-L23 and Yamnaya ancestry to Iberia, ergo the Bell Beaker phenomenon was not a (mere) local development in Iberia, but involved the expansion of peoples tracing their ancestry to the Yamnaya culture who eventually replaced a great part of the local population.

Natural neighbor interpolation of Germany_Beaker ancestry in Iberia during the Bell Beaker period (ca. 2600-2250 BC). See full map.

(2) Classical Bell Beakers have their closest source population in Germany Beakers, and they reject an origin close to Rhine Beakers (i.e. Beakers from the British Isles, the Netherlands, or northern France), ergo the Single Grave culture was not the origin of the Bell Beaker culture, either (see here).

Map of Y-DNA haplogroups among Iberian Bell Beaker samples. See full map.
Map of mtDNA haplogroups among Iberian Bell Beaker samples. See full map.

Early Bronze Age

Iberian Early Bronze Age groups and likely population and culture expansions. See full map.

Interestingly, the European Early Bronze Age in Iberia is still a period of adjustments before reaching the final equilibrium. Unlike the situation in the British Isles, where Bell Beakers brought about a swift population replacement, Iberia shows – like the Nordic Late Neolithic period – centuries of genomic balancing between Indo-European- and non-Indo-European-speaking peoples, as could be suggested by hydrotoponymic research alone.

(3) Palaeo-Indo-European-speaking Old Europeans occupied first the whole Iberian Peninsula, before the potential expansion of one or more non-Indo-European-speaking groups, which confirms the known relative chronology of hydrotoponymic layers of Iberia.

Natural neighbor interpolation of Germany_Beaker ancestry in Iberia during the Early Bronze Age period (ca. 2250-1750 BC). See full map.

This balancing is seen in terms of Germany_Beaker vs. Iberia_Chalcolithic ancestry, but also in terms of Y-chromosome haplogroups, with the most interesting late developments happening in southern Iberia, around the territory where El Argar eventually emerged in radical opposition to the Bell Beaker culture.

Map of Y-DNA haplogroups among Iberia Early Bronze Age samples. See full map.

(4) Bell Beakers and descendants expanded under male-driven migrations, proper of the Indo-European patrilineal tradition, seen in Yamnaya and even earlier in Khvalynsk:

We obtained lower proportions of ancestry related to Germany_Beaker on the X-chromosome than on the autosomes (Table S14), although the Z-score for the differences between the estimates is 2.64, likely due to the large standard error associated to the mixture proportions in the X-chromosome.


Map of mtDNA haplogroups among Iberia Early Bronze Age samples. See full map.

Regarding the PCA, Iberia Bronze Age samples occupy an intermediate cluster between Iberia Chalcolithic and Bell Beakers of steppe ancestry, with Yamnaya-rich samples from the north (Asturias, Burgos) representing the likely source Old European population whose languages survived well into the Roman Iron Age:

PCA of ancient European samples. Marked and labelled are Bronze Age groups and relevant samples. See full image.

Middle Bronze Age

Iberian Middle Bronze Age groups and likely population and culture expansions. See full map.

During the Middle Bronze Age, the equilibrium reached earlier is reversed, with a (likely non-Indo-European-speaking) Argaric sphere of influence expanding to the west and north featuring Iberia Chalcolithic and lesser amount of Germany_Beaker ancestry, present now in the whole Peninsula, although in varying degrees.

Natural neighbor interpolation of Germany_Beaker ancestry in Iberia during the Middle Bronze Age period (ca. 1750-1250 BC). See full map.

All Iberian groups were probably already under a bottleneck of R1b-DF27 lineages, although it is likely that specific subclades differed among regions:

Map of Y-DNA haplogroups among Iberia Middle Bronze Age samples. See full map.
Map of mtDNA haplogroups among Iberia Middle Bronze Age samples. See full map.

Late Bronze Age

Iberian Late Bronze Age groups and likely population and culture expansions. See full map.

The Late Bronze Age represents the arrival of the Urnfield culture, which probably expanded with Celtic-speaking peoples. A Late Bronze Age transect before their genetic impact still shows a prevalent Germany_Beaker-like Steppe ancestry, probably peaking in north/west Iberia:

Natural neighbor interpolation of Germany_Beaker ancestry in Iberia during the Late Bronze Age period (ca. 1250-750 BC). See full map.

(5) Galaico-Lusitanians were descendants of Iberian Beakers of Germany_Beaker ancestry and hg. R1b-M269. Autosomal data of samples I7688 and I7687, of the Final Bronze (end of the reported 1200-700 BC period for the samples), from Gruta do Medronhal (Arrifana, Coimbra, Portugal) confirms this.

In the 1940s, human bones, metallic artifacts (n=37) and non-human bones were discovered in the natural cave of Medronhal (Arrifana, Coimbra). All these findings are currently housed in the Department of Life Sciences of the University of Coimbra and are analyzed by a multidisciplinary team. The artifacts suggest a date at the beginning of the 1st millennium BC, which is confirmed by radiocarbon date of a human fibula: 890–780 cal BCE (2650±40 BP, Beta–223996). This natural cave has several rooms and corridors with two entrances. No information is available about the context of the human remains. Nowadays these remains are housed mixed and correspond to a minimum number of 11 individuals, 5 adults and 6 non-adults.

In particular, sample I7687 shows hg. R1b-M269, with no available quality SNPs, positive or negative, under it (see full report). They represent thus another strong support of the North-West Indo-European expansion with Bell Beakers.

Map of Y-DNA haplogroups among Iberian Late Bronze Age samples. See full map.
Map of mtDNA haplogroups among Iberian Late Bronze Age samples. See full map.

NOTE. To understand how the region around Coimbra was (Proto-)Lusitanian – and not just Old European in general – until the expansion of the Turduli Oppidani, see any recent paper on Bronze Age expansion of warrior stelae, hydrotoponymy, anthroponymy, or theonymy (see e.g. about Spear-vocabulary).

Iron Age

Iberian Pre-Roman Iron Age groups and likely population and culture expansions. See full map.

In a complex period of multiple population movements and language replacements, the temporal transect in Olalde et al. (2019) offers nevertheless relevant clues for the Pre-Roman Iron Age:

(6) The expansion of Celtic languages was associated with the spread of France_Beaker-like ancestry, most likely already with the LBA Urnfield culture, since a Tartessian and a Pre-Iberian samples (both dated ca. 700-500 BC) already show this admixture, in regions which some centuries earlier did not show it. Similarly, a BA sample from Álava ca. 910–840 BC doesn’t show it, and later Celtiberian samples from the same area (ca. 4th c. BC and later) show it, depicting a likely north-east to west/south-west routes of expansion of Celts.

Natural neighbor interpolation of France_Beaker ancestry in Iberia during the Pre-Roman Iron Age period (ca. 750-250 BC). See full map.

(7) The distribution of Germany_Beaker ancestry peaked, by the Iron Age, among Old Europeans from west Iberia, including Galaico-Lusitanians and probably also Astures and Cantabri, in line with what was expected before genetic research:

Natural neighbor interpolation of Germany_Beaker ancestry in Iberia during the Pre-Roman Iron Age period (ca. 750-250 BC). See full map.

A probably more precise picture of the Final Bronze – Early Iron Age transition is obtained by including the Final Bronze samples I2469 from El Sotillo, Álava (ca. 910-875 BC) as Celtic ancestry buffer to the west, and the sample I3315 from Menorca (ca. 904-861 BC), lacking more recent ones from intermediate regions:

Natural neighbor interpolation of Germany_Beaker ancestry in Iberia during the Final Bronze Age – Early Iron Age transition. See full map.
Natural neighbor interpolation of France_Beaker ancestry in Iberia during the Final Bronze Age – Early Iron Age transition. See full map.

In terms of Y-DNA and mtDNA haplogroups, the situation is difficult to evaluate without more samples and more reported subclades:

Map of Y-DNA haplogroups among Iberian Iron Age samples. See full map.
Map of mtDNA haplogroups among Iberian Iron Age samples. See full map.

In the PCA, Proto-Lusitanian samples occupy an intermediate cluster between Iberian Bronze Age and Bronze Age North (see above), including the Final Bronze sample from Álava, while Celtic-speaking peoples (including Pre-Iberians and Iberians of Celtic descent from north-east Iberia) show a similar position – albeit evidently unrelated – due to their more recent admixture between Iberian Bronze Age and Urnfield/Hallstatt from Central Europe:

PCA of ancient European samples. Marked and labelled are Iron Age groups and relevant samples. See full image.

(8) Iberian-speaking peoples in north-east Iberia represent a recent expansion of the language from the south, possibly accompanied by an increase in Iberia_Chalcolithic/Germany_Beaker admixture from east/south-east Iberia.

(9) Modern Basques represent a recent isolation + Y-DNA bottlenecks after the Roman Iron Age population movements, probably from Aquitanians migrating south of the Pyrenees, admixing with local peoples, and later becoming isolated during the Early Middle Ages and thereafter:

[Modern Basques] overlap genetically with Iron Age populations showing substantial levels of Steppe ancestry.

Assuming that France_Beaker ancestry is associated with the Urnfield culture (spreading with Celtic-speaking peoples), Vasconic speakers were possibly represented by some population – most likely from France – whose ancestry is close to Rhine Beakers (see here).

Alternatively, a Vasconic language could have survived in some France/Iberia_Chalcolithic-like population that got isolated north of the Pyrenees close to the Atlantic Façade during the Bronze Age, and who later admixed with Celtic-speaking peoples south of the Pyrenees, such as the Vascones, to the point where their true ancestry got diluted.

In any case, the clear Celtic Steppe-like admixture of modern Basques supports for the time being their recent arrival to Aquitaine before the proto-historical period, which is in line with hydrotoponymic research.


The most interesting aspects to discuss after the publication of Olalde et al. (2019) would have been thus the nature of controversial Palaeohispanic peoples for which there is not much linguistic data, such as:

  • the Astures and the Cantabri, usually considered Pre-Celtic Indo-European (see here);
  • the Vaccaei, usually considered Celtic;
  • the Vettones, traditionally viewed as sharing the same language as Lusitanians due to their apparent shared hydrotoponymic, anthroponymic, and/or theonymic layers, but today mostly viewed as having undergone Celticization and helped the westward expansion of Celtic languages (and archaeologically clearly divided from Old European hostile neighbours to the west by their characteristic verracos);
  • the Pellendones or the Carpetani, who were once considered Pre-Celtic Indo-Europeans, too;
  • the nature of Tartessian as Indo-European, or maybe even as “Celtic”, as defended by Koch;
  • or the potential remote connection of Basque and Iberian languages in a common trunk featuring Iberian/France_Chalcolithic ancestry (also including Palaeo-Sardo).
Pre-Roman Palaeohispanic peoples ca. 300 BC. See full map. Image modified from the version at Wikipedia, a good example of how to disseminate the wrong ideas about Palaeohispanic languages.

Despite these interesting questions still open for discussion, the paper remarked something already known for a long time: that modern Basques had steppe ancestry and Y-DNA proper of the Yamnaya 5,000 years ago, and that Bell Beakers had brought this steppe ancestry and R1b-P312 lineages to Iberia. This common Basque-centric interpretation of Iberian prehistory is the consequence of a 19th-century tradition of obsessively imagining Vasconic-speaking peoples in their medieval territories extrapolated to Cro-Magnons and Atapuerca (no, really), inhabiting undisturbed for millennia a large territory encompassing the whole Iberia and France, “reduced” or “broken” only with the arrival of Celts just before the Roman conquests. A recursive idea of “linguistic autochthony” and “genetic purity” of the peoples of Iberia that has never had any scientific basis.

Similarly, this paper offered the Nth proof already in population genomics that traditional nativist claims for the origin of the Bell Beaker folk in Western Europe were wrong, both southern (nativist Iberian origin) and northern European (nativist Lower Rhine origin). Both options could be easily rejected with phylogeography since 2015, they were then rejected in Olalde et al. and Mathieson et al (2017), then again with the update of many samples in Olalde et al. (2018) and Mathieson et al (2018), and it has most clearly been rejected recently with data from Wang et al. (2018) and its Yamnaya Hungary samples. Findings from Olalde et al. (2019) are just another nail to coffins that should have been well buried by now.

Even David Anthony didn’t have any doubt in his latest model (2017) about the Carpathian Basin origin of North-West Indo-Europeans (see here), and his latest update to the Proto-Indo-European homeland question (2019) shows that he is convinced now about R1b bottlenecks and proper Pre-Yamnaya ancestry stemming from a time well before the Bell Beaker expansion. This won’t be the last setback to supporters of zombie theories: like the hypotheses of an Anatolian, Armenian, or OIT origin of the PIE homeland, other mythical ideas are so entrenched in nationalist and/or nativist tradition that many supporters will no doubt prefer them to die hard, under the most numerous and shameful rejections of endlessly remade reactionary models.


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


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

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine, edited for clarity):

On the high frequency of R1b-V88

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continuity from Sardinia Neolithic through the Nuragic

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

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

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

Steppe influx in Modern Sardinians

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


Arrival of steppe ancestry with R1b-P312 in the Mediterranean: Balearic Islands, Sicily, and Iron Age Sardinia


New preprint The Arrival of Steppe and Iranian Related Ancestry in the Islands of the Western Mediterranean by Fernandes, Mittnik, Olalde et al. bioRxiv (2019)

Interesting excerpts (emphasis in bold; modified for clarity):

Balearic Islands: The expansion of Iberian speakers

Mallorca_EBA dates to the earliest period of permanent occupation of the islands at around 2400 BCE. We parsimoniously modeled Mallorca_EBA as deriving 36.9 ± 4.2% of her ancestry from a source related to Yamnaya_Samara; (…). We next used qpAdm to identify “proximal” sources for Mallorca_EBA’s ancestry that are more closely related to this individual in space and time, and found that she can be modeled as a clade with the (small) subset of Iberian Bell Beaker culture associated individuals who carried Steppe-derived ancestry (p=0.442).

Suppl. Materials: The model used was with Bell_Beaker_Iberia_highsteppe, a group of outliers from Iberia buried in a Bell Beaker mortuary context who unlike most individuals from this context in that region had high proportions of Steppe ancestry (p=0.442).

Our estimates of Steppe ancestry in the two later Balearic Islands individuals are lower than the earlier one: 26.3 ± 5.1% for Formentera_MBA and 23.1 ± 3.6% for Menorca_LBA, but the Middle to Late Bronze Age Balearic individuals are not a clade relative to non-Balearic groups. Specifically, we find that f4(Mbuti.DG, X; Formentera_MBA, Menorca_LBA) is positive when X=Iberia_Chalcolithic (Z=2.6) or X=Sardinia_Nuragic_BA (Z=2.7). While it is tempting to interpret the latter statistic as suggesting a genetic link between peoples of the Talaiotic culture of the Balearic islands and the Nuragic culture of Sardinia, the attraction to Iberia_Chalcolithic is just as strong, and the mitochondrial haplogroup U5b1+16189+@16192 in Menorca_LBA is not observed in Sardinia_Nuragic_BA but is observed in multiple Iberia_Chalcolithic individuals. A possible explanation is that both the ancestors of Nuragic Sardinians and the ancestors of Talaiotic people from the Balearic Islands received gene flow from an unsampled Iberian Chalcolithic-related group (perhaps a mainland group affiliated to both) that did not contribute to Formentera_MBA.

This sample, like another one in El Argar, is of hg. R1b-P312. So there you are, the data that connects the Proto-Iberian expansion (replacing IE-speaking Bell Beakers) to the Iberian Chalcolithic population, signaled by the increase in Iberian Chalcolithic ancestry after the arrival of Bell Beakers, most likely connected originally to the Argaric and post-Argaric expansions during the MBA.

PCA with previously published ancient individuals (non-filled symbols), projected onto variation from present-day populations (gray squares).

Steppe in Sardinia IA: Phocaeans from Italy?

Most Sardinians buried in a Nuragic Bronze Age context possessed uniparental haplogroups found in European hunter-gatherers and early farmers, including Y-haplogroup R1b1a[xR1b1a1a] which is different from the characteristic R1b1a1a2a1a2 spread in association with the Bell Beaker complex. An exception is individual I10553 (1226-1056 calBCE) who carried Y-haplogroup J2b2a, previously observed in a Croatian Middle Bronze Age individual bearing Steppe ancestry, suggesting the possibility of genetic input from groups that arrived from the east after the spread of first farmers. This is consistent with the evidence of material culture exchange between Sardinians and mainland Mediterranean groups, although genome-wide analyses find no significant evidence of Steppe ancestry so the quantitative demographic impact was minimal.

Another interesting data, these (Mesolithic) remnant R1b-V88 lineages closely related to the Italian Peninsula, the most likely region of expansion of these lineages into Africa, in turn possibly connected to the expansion of Proto-Afroasiatic.

We detect definitive evidence of Iranian-related ancestry in an Iron Age Sardinian I10366 (391-209 calBCE) with an estimate of 11.9 ± 3.7.% Iran_Ganj_Dareh_Neolithic related ancestry, while rejecting the model with only Anatolian_Neolithic and WHG at p=0.0066 (Supplementary Table 9). The only model that we can fit for this individual using a pair of populations that are closer in time is as a mixture of Iberia_Chalcolithic (11.9 ± 3.2%) and Mycenaean (88.1 ± 3.2%) (p=0.067). This model fits even when including Nuragic Sardinians in the outgroups of the qpAdm analysis, which is consistent with the hypothesis that this individual had little if any ancestry from earlier Sardinians.

Proportions of ancestry using a distal qpAdm framework on an individual basis (a), and based on qpWave clusters

Sicily EBA: The Lusitanian/Ligurian connection?

(…) While a previously reported Bell Beaker culture-associated individual from Sicily had no evidence of Steppe ancestry, (…) we find evidence of Steppe ancestry in the Early Bronze Age by ~2200 BCE. In distal qpAdm, the outlier Sicily_EBA11443 is parsimoniously modeled as harboring 40.2 ± 3.5% Steppe ancestry, and the outlier Sicily_EBA8561 is parsimoniously modeled as harboring 23.3 ± 3.5% Steppe ancestry. (…) The presence of Steppe ancestry in Early Bronze Age Sicily is also evident in Y chromosome analysis, which reveals that 4 of the 5 Early Bronze Age males had Steppe-associated Y-haplogroup R1b1a1a2a1a2. (Online Table 1). Two of these were Y-haplogroup R1b1a1a2a1a2a1 (Z195) which today is largely restricted to Iberia and has been hypothesized to have originated there 2500-2000 BCE. This evidence of west-to-east gene flow from Iberia is also suggested by qpAdm modeling where the only parsimonious proximate source for the Steppe ancestry we found in the main Sicily_EBA cluster is Iberians.

What’s this? An ancestral connection between Sicel Elymian and Galaico-Lusitanian or Ligurian (based on an origin in NE Iberia)? Impossible to say, especially if the languages of these early settlers were replaced later by non-Indo-European speakers from the eastern Mediterranean, and by Indo-European speakers from the mainland closely related to Proto-Italic during the LBA, but see below.

Regarding the comment on R1b-Z195, it is associated with modern Iberians, as DF27 in general, due to founder effects beyond the Pyrenees. It is a very old subclade, split directly from DF27 roughly at the same time as it split from the parent P312, i.e. it can be found anywhere in Europe, and it almost certainly accompanied the expansion of Celts from Central Europe under the subclade R1b-M167/SRY2627.

The connection is thus strong only because of the qpAdm modeling, since R1b-DF27 and subclade R1b-Z195 are certainly lineages expanded quite early, most likely with Yamna settlers in Hungary and East Bell Beakers.

In this case, if stemming from Iberia, it is most likely of subclade R1b-Z220 – or another Z195 (xM167) lineage – originally associated with the Old European substrate found in topo-hydronymy in Iberia, whose most likely remnants attested during the Iron Age were Lusitanians.

Left: Modern distribution of R1b-Z195 (YFull estimate 2700 BC); Right: Modern distribution of DF27. Both include later founder effects within Iberia, so the increase in the Basque country and the Crown of Aragon and the decrease in Portugal can safely be ignored. Contour maps of the derived allele frequencies of the SNPs analyzed in Solé-Morata et al. (2017).

We detect Iranian-related ancestry in Sicily by the Middle Bronze Age 1800-1500 BCE, consistent with the directional shift of these individuals toward Mycenaeans in PCA. Specifically, two of the Middle Bronze Age individuals can only be fit with models that in addition to Anatolia_Neolithic and WHG, include Iran_Ganj_Dareh_Neolithic. The most parsimonious model for Sicily_MBA3125 has 18.0 ± 3.6% Iranian-related ancestry (p=0.032 for rejecting the alternative model of Steppe rather than Iranian-related ancestry), and the most parsimonious model for Sicily_MBA has 14.9 ± 3.9% Iranian-related ancestry (p=0.037 for rejecting the alternative model).

The modern southern Italian Caucasus-related signal identified in Raveane et al. (2018) is plausibly related to the same Iranian-related spread of ancestry into Sicily that we observe in the Middle Bronze Age (and possibly the Early Bronze Age).

The non-Indo-European Sicanians and Elymians were possibly then connected to eastern Mediterranean groups before the expansion of the Sea Peoples.

For the Late Bronze Age group of individuals, qpAdm documented Steppe-related ancestry, modeling this group as 80.2 ± 1.8% Anatolia_Neolithic, 5.3 ± 1.6% WHG, and 14.5 ± 2.2% Yamnaya_Samara. Our modeling using sources more closely related in space and time also supports Sicily_LBA having Minoan-related ancestry or being derived from local preceding populations or individuals with ancestries similar to those of Sicily_EBA3123 (p=0.527), Sicily_MBA3124 (p=0.352), and Sicily_MBA3125 (p=0.095).

This increase in Steppe-related ancestry in a western site during the LBA most likely represents either an expansion from the Aegean or – maybe more likely, given the archaeological finds – a regional population similar to Sicily EBA re-emerging or rather being displaced from the eastern part of the island because of a westward movement from nearby Calabria.

Whether this population sampled spoke Indo-European or not at this time is questionable, since the Iron Age accounts show non-IE Elymians in this region.

Actually, Elymians seem to have spoken Indo-European, which fits well with the increase in steppe ancestry.

EDIT (21 MAR): Interesting about a proposed incoming Minoan-like ancestry is the potential origin of the Iran Neolithic-related ancestry that is going to appear in Central Italy during the LBA. This could then be potentially associated with Tyrsenians passing through the area, although the traditional description may be more more compatible with an arrival of Sea Peoples from the Adriatic.

Sad to read this:

This manuscript is dedicated to the memory of Sebastiano Tusa of the Soprintendenza del Mare in Palermo, who would have been an author of this study had he not tragically died in the crash of Ethiopia Airlines flight 302 on March 10.


Modern Sardinians show elevated Neolithic farmer ancestry shared with Basques


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

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

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Distribution of Semitic languages. From Wikipedia.

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

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

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

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


Yamna female shows decoration of bones after body decomposition

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

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

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

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

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

Burial and reconstruction. Foto by Michał Podsiadło.

This is what the team has discovered since then:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Żurkiewicz believes that:

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

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

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

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

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

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


Cereal cultivation and processing in Trypillian mega-sites


New paper (behind paywall) Where are the cereals? Contribution of phytolith analysis to the study of subsistence economy at the Trypillia site Maidanetske (ca. 3900-3650 BCE), central Ukraine, by Dal Corso et al. Journal of Arid Environments (2018).

Interesting excerpts (only introduction and conclusions, emphasis mine):

Archaeological setting at the site of Maidanetske, Ukraine

From ca. 4800 to 3350 BCE, Trypillia settlements were widespread over parts of eastern Romania, Moldova and Ukraine (Menotti and Korvin-Piotrovskiy, 2012; Müller et al., 2016; Videiko, 2004). Maidanetske (Fig. 1B) is one of the so-called “mega-sites” which developed during ca. 3900–3400 BCE in central Ukraine, in the Uman region (Cherkasy district) (Müller and Videiko, 2016; Müller et al., 2017). In this region, nine of these “mega-sites” have been found. Mega-sites are characterized by a regular plan with concentric rings of houses around a large empty central space, additional quartiers, with radial and peripheral track ways (Fig. 1B). The three mega-sites Maidanetske, Taljanky and Dobrovody, lay ca. 15 km apart from each other (Fig. 1A); other mega-sites are located within a 50 km radius around Maidanetske. Archaeologically, these mega-sites consist of the remains of buildings most of them burnt, although a minority of unburnt buildings is known of as well (Burdo and Videiko, 2016; Müller and Videiko, 2016; Ohlrau, 2015). Most of these buildings have a standardized regular size (average 6×12 m) and architecture including domestic installations and a standardized assemblage of artifacts. At Maidanetske beside normal sized houses there are few larger rectangular buildings that are located regularly along the main pathways. Further archaeological contexts include pits, pottery kilns, and peripheral ditches. A huge variety of mostly painted pottery (including many with figurative animal and plant motives), some flint artifacts, rare copper objects, querns, adzes and a broad range of anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figurines are attested within houses and mega-structures. In terms of organic remains, animal bones are fairly common, while botanical macro-remains appear to be scarce and poorly preserved (Kirleis and Dal Corso, 2016; Pashkevich and Videjko, 2006).

The location of the Chalcolithic site of Maidanetske and of other sites mentioned in the text within the map of the natural vegetation (modified after Kirleis
and Dreibrodt, 2016, graphic K. Winter, Kiel University).

Environmental setting at Maidanetske

The Trypillia sites in central Ukraine, including Maidanetske, are located in a semi-arid forest-steppe ecozone, a mosaic-like ecosystem stretched between the dry steppe grasslands in the south and temperate woodland biomes in the north (Fig. 1A). In this transitional zone the natural vegetation is supposed to be patchy and sensitive to climate and topography (Feurdean et al., 2015; Molnàr et al., 2012; Walter, 1974). Since most of the accessible plateaus are converted to agricultural land and the scarce broadleaf woodlands are managed, the natural landscape heterogeneity is difficult to trace within the current landscape (Kuzemko et al., 2014). Besides agricultural fields and villages, narrow river valleys incised into the loess plateaus are present, with riparian vegetation and artificial lakes. This western Pontic area has a humid continental climate with wet winters and warm summers (Köppen and Geiger, 1939), which corresponds to a semi-arid 0.2–0.5 aridity index value according to UNEP (1997). Nevertheless, the reconstruction of past climatic as well as environmental conditions is not straightforward, since undisturbed archives for pollen analysis are lacking in the region and published climatic reconstructions combine evidences from peripheral areas (Gerasimenko, 1997; Harper, 2017; Kirleis and Dreibrodt, 2016). In the Transylvanian forest-steppe region, palynological investigations suggest that dry grasslands have expanded since the end of the 4th millennium BCE, fostered by Bronze Age forest clearance, while before this the area was largely forested (Feurdean et al., 2015). In the Hungarian forest-steppe, the mixed oak forest on Loess almost disappeared by the end of the 18th century AD, hampered by factors such as fragmentation, slow regeneration, spread of invasive species and lowering of the water table due to increased aridity (Molnàr et al., 2012). It is clear that forest-steppe environments are very sensitive to aridity and land use practices. To understand whether similar landscape change can have occurred in central Ukraine already at the time of Chalcolithic mega-sites, an understanding of the extent of crop growing and deforestation is crucial.

The site of Maidanetske is situated on a plateau covered by Loess deposited during the Last Glaciation. This plateau is dissected by valleys of different sizes with perennial rivers present within the large valleys. One of these rivers passes the site in a distance of less than 500 m. The soils that are present nowadays are Chernozems. They show dark greyish-brown A-horizons of thicknesses between 30 and 50 cm and a texture dominated by silt. Numerous filled crotowinas indicate an intensive bioturbation during the formation of these soils. The Chernozems cover the archaeological record. The variations in thickness of the A-horizon are probably reflecting post-depositional soil erosion processes. Buried soils discovered at lower slope positions below colluvial layers show properties of Cambisols, thus pointing towards a forested past of the surrounding landscape (Kirleis and Dreibrodt, 2016).

The reconstruction of Maidanetske based on geomagnetic survey (modern and from the 1970s by
Dudkin), with the position of the trenches mentioned in this study.


At the site of Maidanetske, the phytolith record from different contexts including multiple houses, was studied, which confirmed cereal cultivation as part of the subsistence economy of the site. Furthermore, phytoliths gave information about wild grasses, whereas dicotyledonous material was scarce. For the house structures cereal byproducts, chaff and straw were identified as material selected for tempering daub for the wall construction. Ash layers in a pit filled with house remains show similar pattern. Daub fragments and pit filling are the most promising archives for further phytolith work on cereals at Trypillia sites. The sediment inside four burnt houses and the areas outside two houses, where also grinding stones were sampled, showed little presence of the remains of final cereal processing, suggesting that either the surfaces were cleaned and the chaff was collected after dehusking, or the cereal processing activity took place somewhere else. Specific archaeological contexts, such as vessels and grinding stones, did not differ much from the control samples from archaeological sediment nearby, suggesting disturbance of the record.(…)