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

steppe-balearic-sicily-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.

balearic-sicily-sardinia-pca
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.

yamnaya-samara
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.

r1b-df27-z195
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.

Related

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

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

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

caucasus-dagestan-climate-population
The combination of Holocene environment changes and the settlement of the territory of Dagestan.

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

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

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

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

See also:

The Indus Valley Civilisation in genetics – the Harappan Rakhigarhi project

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Razib Khan reports on his new website about an article by Tony Joseph, Who built the Indus Valley civilisation?, itself referring to the potential upcoming results of a genetic analysis project involving Rakhigarhi, the biggest Harappan site.

The possible scenarios based on potential sample results in terms of Y-DNA and mtDNA haplogroups seem to be generally well described, and I would bet – like Khan – for some kind of an East-West Eurasian connection. This is all pure speculation, though, and after all we only have to wait one month and see.

map-indus-valley
Detailed map of Indus Valley Civilization settlements. Key: ville actuelle – modern cities; site indusien – Indus Valley Civilization site; site majeur – major site (from Wikipedia, by Michel Danino)

Out of the potential models laid out by Joseph something struck me as plainly wrong. From the section about R1a and Vedic Aryans (emphasis mine):

In the ancient DNA from Rakhigarhi, scientists identify R1a, one of the hundreds of Y-DNA haplogroups (or male lineages that are passed on from fathers to sons). They also identify H2b — one of the hundreds of mt-DNA haplogroups (or female lineages that are passed on from mothers to daughters) — that has often been found in proximity to R1a.

There is no reason whatsoever to think that this would be the research finding, but if it is, it would cause a global convulsion in the fields of population genetics, history and linguistics. It would also cause great cheer among the advocates of the theory that says that the Indus Valley civilisation was Vedic Aryan.

(…)

And it goes on to postulate reasons why such a big fuss will be created about the potential finding of haplogroup R1a, and its implications for the Out-of-India Theory. A global convulsion, no less.

But, since when do genetic findings cause revolutions in Linguistics? Or even in Archaeology?

When I thought the identification of R1a – Indo-European could never reach a lower level of unscientific nonsense, based on circular reasoning, here it is, a worse example.

Not only are there people waiting desperately to see just one sample of an R1a subclade in Yamna to oversimplistically identify (yet again) Corded Ware with the Indo-European expansion; there are also people waiting to find just one sample in India or Central Asia to destroy the current models of steppe origins for Proto-Indo-European.

I guess this childish game is more or less based on the same premises that made some people believe that the concept of the ‘Yamnaya component’ destroyed traditional archaeological models.

R1a-thegeneticatlas
Modern haplogroup R1a distribution from The Genetic Atlas (PD), the kind of simplistic maps that generated the current misconceptions (or how to sow the wind among populations with an inferiority complex).

It seems that all new methods involving admixture analysis, PCA, and other statistical tools to study Human Ancestry are still irrelevant for most, and indeed that Archaeology and even Linguistics are at the service of the simplistic identification of ancient languages with modern haplogroup distributions.

We are reliving the 1990s in Genetics, and the 1930s in Archaeology and Linguistics all over again. This must be great news for companies that offer genetic analyses… I wonder if it is also good for Science, though.

The funny thing is, the same people responsible for the survival of these misconceptions, i.e. R1a – Indo-European fanboys, who constantly fan the flames of absurd genetic-genealogical and ethnolinguistic identification, are often the first to criticize models compatible with the Out-of-India Theory.

I really hope some R1a subclade is found among the samples, so that stupidity can reach the lowest possible level in discussions among amateur geneticists obsessed with haplogroup R1a’s role in the expansion of Indo-European speakers. Maybe then will the rest of us be able to overcome this renewed moronic supremacist trends hidden behind supposedly objective migration models.

For those interested in actual Indo-European migration models, the finding of early R1a subclades in central Asia (or India) – like the potential finding of R1a subclades in Yamnadoes change neither Archaeology nor Linguistics on the Indo-European question.

Genomics is merely helping these disciplines evolve, by supporting certain archaeological models of migration over others, but no revolution has been seen yet, and none is expected.

Each new genetic paper helps support the strongest archaeological models of steppe origins for Proto-Indo-European, and a Late Indo-European expansion compatible with current Linguistic reconstructions.

Featured image: From Wikipedia, Indus Valley Civilization, Mature Phase (2600-1900 BCE), by Jane McIntosh.

Related:

The Aryan migration debate, the Out of India models, and the modern “indigenous Indo-Aryan” sectarianism

indus-valley-early-harappan

The Proto-Indo-European Urheimat

Not long ago, the Proto-Indo-European language Urheimat problem used to be cyclic in nature: linguistic and archaeological publications appeared supporting a Copper Age migration from the steppe proposed by Marija Gimbutas, or a Neolithic expansion from Anatolia (or Armenia) proposed by Colin Renfrew, and back again.

I have always supported the simpler, more recent Chalcolithic migration of Late Indo-Europeans from the Pontic-Caspian steppe over an older Neolithic expansion from Anatolia with agriculture. The latter model implied a complex cultural diffusion over a greater span of time than is warranted by linguistic guesstimates, understood as the general grasp that anyone can have on how much a language changes in time, comparing the different stages of different Indo-European languages. Whether they like to talk about it or not, or whether they would describe them as such (or else as terminus ante or post quem), most known linguists and archaeologists involved in Indo-European studies have published at some point their own guesstimates.

To have an idea about how guesstimates work, you only have to learn some Indo-European languages from different branches, the ancient languages from which they are derived, how they have evolved from them through time, and their proto-languages, to see how unlikely it is that the differences from Late Indo-European to Proto-Greek, Proto-Indo-Iranian, Proto-Celtic, or Proto-Italic need a leap of ca. 3000 years almost without change, as required by the Anatolian hypothesis. Some have strong reactions against guesstimates arguing you cannot compare historic or proto-historic changes to prehistoric ones, to support a different linguistic change rate from Proto-Indo-European to proto-languages. I find this to be a sound criticism, but often used justify a worse, ad-hoc estimate that supports other theory.

Glottochronology – in case you are looking for mathematics or statistics to solve the problem – is as useless today as it always was. Not everything – in fact few things in anthropology – can be solved with algorithms and statistics. I do love algorithms and statistics, because their results – if based on sound assumptions – are hard to be contested, but not a single good one has been proposed for comparative grammar, as far as I know.

Algorithms solve everything

Steppe hypothesis

The steppe hypothesis was always the simpler connection with modern Indo-European languages, from a linguistic and archaeological point of view, and archaeogenetics (since the advent of haplogroup investigation, and the finding of modern R1a distribution) did also support it. However, it implied a conquest by warring patrilocal peoples, that substituted the ‘original’ Neolithic European and Asian population and languages, and invasions have not been a fashionable antrhopological subject for a long time.

One of the consequences of the genocidal racism and xenophobia seen during World War II was the strong reaction to its ideological foundations, and there was a common will to end with Kosinna’s trend of historic ethnolinguistic identification of modern peoples. Linguistics and archaeology did then search for more complex models of human relations and exchange, mostly to avoid what appeared as simplistic concepts of migration or invasion. Marija Gimbutas’ simplistic kurganist, male-driven invasion of territories inhabited by matrilocal Old Europeans, albeit reasonable, did not fit well with these post-war times. One could accept historic and proto-historic atrocities and genocide by any people against others, and even tribal conflicts between prehistoric hunter-gatherers that ended in the destruction of one of them, but a violent, massive spread of ‘Aryans’ was considered a dangerous idea to be avoided.

Thanks to the effort of David Anthony (among others) in supporting migration models in Archaeology, the steppe model did have a strong revival even before archaeogenetics began to be a thing in anthropological research.

Anatolian hypothesis

The Anatolian hypothesis, on the other hand, seemed like a fine, long evolution of a language accompanying the peaceful spread of a technological innovation, farming and cattle herding. Originally believed to be mostly a cultural diffusion (now it has been demonstrated to be a mixed diffusion event, with strong demic diffusion in its early phase), it was thus in line with a more politically correct view of prehistoric events.

This cultural diffusion gave in turn way to more peaceful and innovative solutions to language spread, like waves of expansion, or a constellation of languages influencing each other for long periods, so that even the potential reconstruction of a single Proto-Indo-European language or people was doubted. Prehistoric friendly neighbours would have adopted farming and exchanged goods and languages for thousands of years, and only with proto-historic events did people have ethnolinguistic identification that caused conflicts…

While recently there have been some doubts expressed by Mathieson et al. (2017) on the of the steppe hypothesis regarding Proto-Anatolian, it is likely that the lack of enough ancient DNA of the Balkans and Anatolia is the key factor here.

An interesting linguistic proposal, the glottalic theory, while sound in its assumptions and results – much less likely in my opinion than the more common two-dorsal theory, and this much more likely than the prevalent three-dorsal one – gave some theoretical support to the Anatolian (or Armenian) hypothesis, since some proponents felt that a glottalic Proto-Indo-European should have an origin near to the Armenian homeland – because glottalic Proto-Armenian would have retained a phonetic state nearer to the “original” Proto-Indo-European.

That simplistic regional continuity explanation is akin to the trend of Basque researchers to discover links of Proto-Basque with the Pyrenees in Mesolithic and Palaeolithic times, when there is no data to warrant such identifications – and it seems in fact that Proto-Basque, Proto-Iberian, and Palaeo-Sardinian might have accompanied the expansion of farming in the Neolithic. Probably most proponents left of the Glottalic theory today (like Frederik Kortlandt and Alan Bomhard) would accept a steppe migration unrelated to an Armenian or Anatolian origin.

Marginal proposals

There were indeed other marginal proposals, with people supporting origins of Proto-Indo-European in both ends of the current distribution of Indo-European languages, from the “Indo-” in Out of India theories, to the “-European” in Eurocentric proposals. Most Eurocentric proposals – based on certain archaeological cultures and their evolution in- and outside Europe – have been dismissed with archaeological and genetic research, and the remaining ones usually favour the more fashionable peaceful spread of languages.

Palaeolithic Continuity Theory

A small group in support of the more recent Palaeolithic Continuity Theory remains. It seems to me as deeply flawed from a linguistic point of view (with a much larger time span needed than for a Neolithic expansion), but their arguments are led by research on genetics and archaeology, and not much is left for European romanticism, so it has always appeared to me as a professionally acceptable – although futile – attempt by eccentric researchers to disentangle prehistoric events.

Similar to what happens with proponents of the Anatolian hypothesis, new linguistic, archaeological, and genetic research is used to remake PCT models – instead of just dismissing it -, so it is likely that we will have many different proposals of stepped population movements that will make both models eventually converge with the steppe migration theory, to the point where only the steppe migration theory remains, with some added details on its most ancient origin. I guess sometimes it is difficult to let (part of) your life’s research just go away without fighting for some recognition… You desperately look for a tap on the back by some colleagues, even out of pity, who will tell you ‘it seems you might have been right in some details, after all!’…

Out of India

The Out of India theory is the name given to a group of (mostly) independent models that usually propose a Proto-Indo-European homeland based on or around India. Contrary to the PCT, an Out of India theory set during the Mesolithic or Neolithic would be feasible from a linguistic point of view: you could somehow connect some archaeological migrations to support the spread of Early-Proto-Indo-European-speaking R1a lineage happen east-to-west (and north), and genetically it had support in some papers on modern distribution of R1a subclades, for example in Underhill et al. (2014). Underhill himself has since questioned his conclusion in view of recent papers publishing ancient DNA analysis.

Out of India theories, overall, could thus be as strong (or as weak) as the theories concerning an Anatolian origin, in their potential for explanation of the ancient origin of the Proto-Indo-European language spoken in the steppe during the Neolithic and Chalcolithic. However feasible they might a priori be, I have yet to encounter a decent modern paper with that kind of proposal, based on recent genetic papers. Most modern articles are just Indian nationalist crap, and the only decent papers on this matter are becoming quite old fpr this relatively young field of Indo-European studies. Maybe that’s because I don’t have enough time to look for the hidden good anthropological papers among so much dirt. After all, it is not a very likely theory, and one has a limited amount of time.

In recent papers, if you get rid of simplistic reactionary and revisionist views, conservative Indo-Aryan Hindu nationalist or religious bigotry, fantastic connections with the Indus Valley civilization, and simplistic identifications of Proto-Indo-European as ‘nearer’ to Vedic Sanskrit – with absurdly old and odd references to Schleicher’s reconstruction and dialectal Indo-Slavonic or Satem references -, you are left at best with some basic criticisms of Eurocentrism and the known shortcomings of anthropological disciplines in investigating Proto-Indo-European Urheimat, but no data to support any connection with India whatsoever.

If there is a reason for a generalised inferiority complex in India, I would find it in the shameless publication and popularity of such worthless research papers, a trend that is also seen in scientific fields, with Indian researchers having a increasingly tougher time passing editorial and peer reviews, and resorting thus to national journals. In the case of Indo-European studies, instead of trying to fit data with what we know, the only aim in Indian research seems to be to connect the Indus Valley with Proto-Indo-European, and Proto-Indo-European with a “pure” (i.e. Vedic) Indo-Aryan, to support a mythological Indo-Aryan Hinduist India. And that is mostly what you will find in any Out of India article today, whether based on linguistic, archaeological, or – what is prevalent today – genetic investigation.

This has been The Out of India Controversy Week: it began last week with the publication of a quite decent article in The Hindu by Tony Joseph summing up the current situation of anthropological research. It was followed by reactions in conservative Indian news, and this in turn was contested by Davidsky and Razib Khan. The original article by Tony Joseph has been echoed by Victor Mair in Language Log, and I agree with his description of Joseph’s paper as “informed, sensitive, balanced, and nuanced. This is responsible science journalism”, even if I disagree with some of his statements (in a different way than Mr. Mair). However, this propaganda disguised as scientific criticism is what you get from Indian nationalists.

EDIT (25/6/2017): Razib Khan has published a thorough post on Indian evolutionary genetics as follow-up to this week’s controversy. I think there is too much effort being invested during these controversies precisely by the people who need not explain themselves. Anyway, good summaries of anthropological matters are always welcome.

EDIT (29/6/2017): Other posts on the subject, from Brown Pundits: On the “Aryan” debate – the linguistics POV; Razib Khan’s Indian genetics, part n of many; and Aryan Migration and its Discontents.

Interestingly, any time new research comes to shake certain Indian nationalist foundations, a stronger backfire effect happens, and more criticism is done on the shortcomings of such anthropological research. Because, indeed, if the anthropological theory is flawed, mythical Indo-Aryans spread from the Indus Valley, right…? One can only expect this kind of controversies to escalate in conservative Indian blogs and fora alike, and then deescalate until the next paper is published. A dialectic cycle whose only evident result is the increased opposition that conservative Indian researchers – or researchers that depend on funding by such groups – will have in publishing anything related to a potential Aryan invasion, and the addition of a stronger bias in Indian research.

Western European history

It might well be because I am western European, and western Europeans tend to accept quite well multiple invasions from the East. After all, they have happened so many times in proto-historical and historical times, that it is part of our ethnolinguistic nation-building lore. French people trace their history to the expansion of Celts, Romans, and Franks; Spaniards and Portuguese trace it to the spread of Celts, Ibero-Basques, Romans, and Westgoths; Italians to the expansion of Etruscans, Celts and Italics, Romans, Ostrogoths and Langobards; the English to the expansion of Celts, Angles and Saxons, Vikings, and Normans…

It often seems to me that western Europeans will romanticise their origins no matter what appears in historic and genetic investigation: if Neanderthals are unrelated to Europeans, they are ‘cavemen’; if they intermixed with our ancestors, then they suddenly become quite human in their behaviour, and it is great to have more Neanderthal admixture. If Indo-European-speaking R1a lineages invaded central Europe from the east, and transferred their languages, great, because “we” are heirs of original western European hunter-gatherers of Palaeolithic R1b lineages; if R1b lineages represent an invasion of eastern peoples speaking Late Indo-European, great too, because it means that our paternal forefathers were the ‘original’ Indo-European speakers…

This reaction, our history is great no matter what, seems to be a good one for research, since it allows for any change in our romantic views of the past. This, however, does not seem to be the case for some nations, and this inability to change their views is likely related to the inferiority complex that some nations have developed, in turn probably caused by western European colonialism, so one is left to wonder how responsible we are of modern chauvinist trends.

The sad future

Seeing how so many people of eastern European ancestry are convinced of an origin of R1a-M417 in Indo-European migrations from Yamna – when there is (yet?) not a single proof of it – may be just as troubling as the Indian case, or maybe more, since it affects an important part of Europe. I cannot believe that even today only western Europeans are capable of romanticising their own past no matter what, while the rest of the world lives in a quest to appropriate whatever they view as some great ancient culture, people, or language for their own ancestors.

I have already received complaints and have seen people (of Y-DNA haplogroup R1a) complain online that their forefathers cannot have been Uralic speakers, and some Uralic speakers (of haplogroup N) that original Uralic speakers cannot have been of R1a lineages. Firstly, if I were eastern European – be it Germanic, Balto-Slavic, or Uralic speaker, or a speaker of Indo-Aryan languages, of R1a or N lineage, whatever my country of origin, I like to think I would prefer to know where my forefathers actually came from, and what languages they did in fact speak thousands of years ago, even if that disrupts everything I or my fellow countrymen (wrongly) assumed for a long time. Secondly, we – as western Europeans speaking Romance or Germanic languages – have the right to know exactly how our peoples and languages really came to be, even if that means disrupting others’ dreams. Our paternal ancestors probably changed languages 3 or 4 times during their multiple migrations from the east, and were not peaceful hunter-gatherers living since the Palaeolithic in the same region we do now, as traditionally held; if we can get over this, eastern Europeans and Indians can get over it, too.

I think everyone deserves to know the truth, and they will eventually like it and fantasise with it. But many individuals want to disrupt any possible change to keep their current ethnic and nationalist agendas untouched, and that can affect us all. Nationalistic and romantic trends are understandable: Romans needed Virgil at the peak of their conquests to tell them that they had a glorious past in Troy, connecting them to the immortal Greek epics. The most important lesson one can learn from that example is that Italian researchers are still (2000 years later!) influenced by that myth, and they keep trying to look for Anatolian remains in Latin studies, and in the archaeology and evolutionary genetics of Italy. I guess you could therefore say these mythification trends are naturally human…but losing so much time in absurd quests for mythological identities seems absurd, and can only damage research.

It is sad to think about future generations of Indians looking for any sign to support an autochthonous Indo-Aryan homeland, while the rest of the world keeps moving in the right direction…

(Note: featured image is licensed CC-by-sa 4.0 from Avantiputra7 at Wikipedia)