David Reich on the influence of ancient DNA on Archaeology and Linguistics

An interesting interview has appeared on The Atlantic, Ancient DNA Is Rewriting Human (and Neanderthal) History, on the occasion of the publication of David Reich’s book Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past.

Some interesting excerpts (I have emphasized some of Reich’s words):

On the efficiency of the Reich Lab

Zhang: How much does it cost to process an ancient DNA sample right now?

Reich: In our hands, a successful sample costs less than $200. That’s only two or three times more than processing them on a present-day person. And maybe about one-third to one half of the samples we screen are successful at this point.

This is probably the most controversial assessment for the Twitterverse, since it puts the Reich Lab at the top of the publishing chain, but I don’t find this fact controversial; at all.

Anyone interested in doing genetic studies has free datasets, papers, and bioinformatic tools at hand – thanks to his lab, mostly – to develop new methods and publish papers. Such secondary works won’t probably be published in journals with the highest impact factor, but what can you do, welcome to the scientific world…

Also, by the looks of it, every single researcher involved in recovering an archaeological sample is included as co-author of the papers, so there is a clear benefit for ‘local’ researchers collaborating with the Lab. Therefore, these researchers and their institutions are responsible for whatever unfair situation might be created by their exchange.

On Archaeology’s reaction to Kossinna and Nazi ideas:

Zhang: You actually had German collaborators drop out of a study because of these exact concerns, right? One of them wrote, “We must(!) avoid … being compared with the so-called ‘siedlungsarchäologie Method’ from Gustaf Kossinna!”

Reich: Yeah, that’s right. I think one of the things the ancient DNA is showing is actually the Corded Ware culture does correspond coherently to a group of people. I think that was a very sensitive issue to some of our coauthors, and one of the coauthors resigned because he felt we were returning to that idea of migration in archaeology that pots are the same as people. There have been a fair number of other coauthors from different parts of continental Europe who shared this anxiety.

We responded to this by adding a lot of content to our papers to discuss these issues and contextualize them. Our results are actually almost diametrically opposite from what Kossina thought because these Corded Ware people come from the East, a place that Kossina would have despised as a source for them. But nevertheless it is true that there’s big population movements, and so I think what the DNA is doing is it’s forcing the hand of this discussion in archaeology, showing that in fact, major movements of people do occur. They are sometimes sharp and dramatic, and they involve large-scale population replacements over a relatively short period of time. We now can see that for the first time.

What the genetics is finding is often outside the range of what the archaeologists are discussing these days.

This is mostly true: Genomics offers a whole new dimension to assess exchanges among groups, and help thus select anthropological models of cultural diffusion. They offer another way of interpreting prehistoric cultural evolution and change, including the investigation of potential languages of these cultures, ways of change and replacement, etc.

Also, he acknowledges that there is a lot of content added to the papers in search for context – and thus avoid simplistic assumptions and conclusions – , so this is a reasonable way to look at the (often erroneous) cultural and linguistic context which accompany most genetic papers, and even the new methods being developed to assess samples.

On the other hand, the fact that many in Archaeology didn’t want to discuss migrations does not mean that it was not discussed at all, as he seems to suggest.

On how Genomics fits with traditional disciplines

Zhang: I think at one point in your book you actually describe ancient DNA researchers as the “barbarians” at the gates of the study of history.

Reich: Yeah.

Zhang: Does it feel that way? Have you gotten into arguments with archaeologists over your findings?

Reich: I think archaeologists and linguists find it frustrating that we’re not trained in the language of archaeology and all these sensitivities like about Kossinna. Yet we have this really powerful tool which is this way of looking at things nobody has been able to look at before.

The point I was trying to make there was that even if we’re not always able to articulate the context of our findings very well, this is very new information, and a serious scholar really needs to take this on board. It’s dangerous. Barbarians may not talk in an educated and learned way but they have access to weapons and ways of looking at things that other people haven’t looked to. And time and again we’ve learned in the past that ignoring barbarians is a dangerous thing to do.

I think this is also mostly true: many academics find it frustrating to read these papers, most of which lack a minimal understanding of the topics being discussed.

For example, you can’t pretend to derive meaningful conclusions about Proto-Indo-Europeans knowing nothing about their language and the potential cultures associated with them (and why they were associated with them in the first place)…

I also agree with him in that the study of ancient DNA is a very powerful tool. Everyone involved in Anthropology and Archaeology should be trained these days in Genomics – or, at least, they should have the opportunity to do so.

On the dangers of Genomics

Reich: (…) I know there are extremists who are interested in genealogy and genetics. But I think those are very marginal people, and there’s, of course, a concern they may impinge on the mainstream.

But if you actually take any serious look at this data, it just confounds every stereotype. It’s revealing that the differences among populations we see today are actually only a few thousand years old at most and that everybody is mixed. I think that if you pay any attention to this world, and have any degree of seriousness, then you can’t come out feeling affirmed in the racist view of the world. You have to be more open to immigration. You have to be more open to the mixing of different peoples. That’s your own history.

I guess David Reich does not frequent forums on human genetics linked to ethnolinguistic identification, or he would not think of ‘extremists’ as marginal people. Or else we have a different view of what defines an ‘extremist’…


I did not have the best of opinions about David Reich – or any other geneticist involved in publishing anthropological theories, for that matter. I have always had great respect for their scientific work, though.

If anything, this article shows that he knows his own (and his fellow geneticists’) limitations, and the dangers and limitations of Genomics as a whole, so I have more respect for him – and anyone involved with his Lab’s work – after reading this piece.

I would sum up his interview with his humbling sentence:

We should think we really don’t know what we’re talking about.

NOTE. Also on the occasion of the publication of his book, Nature has published the piece Sex, power and ancient DNA – Turi King hails David Reich’s thrilling account of mapping humans through time and place.

After buying Lalueza-Fox’s recent book ‘La forja genètica d’Europa’, I don’t really feel like buying another book on Genomics and migrations from a geneticist. If you have read Reich’s book, please share your impressions.

Uralic as a Corded Ware substrate of Indo-Iranian, and loanwords in Finno-Ugric

Asko Parpola has recently published a new paper, Finnish vatsa ~ Sanskrit vatsá and the formation of Indo-Iranian and Uralic languages.


Finnish vatsa ‘stomach’ < PFU *vaćća < Proto-Indo-Aryan *vatsá- ‘calf’ < PIE *vet-(e)s-ó- ‘yearling’ contrasts with Finnish vasa- ‘calf’ < Proto-Iranian *vasa- ‘calf’. Indo-Aryan -ts- versus Iranian -s- refl ects the divergent development of PIE *-tst- in the Iranian branch (> *-st-, with Greek and Balto-Slavic) and in the Indo-Aryan branch ( > *-tt-, probably due to Uralic substratum). The split of Indo-Iranian can be traced in the archaeological record to the differentiation of the Yamnaya culture in the North Pontic and Volga steppes respectively during the third millennium BCE, due to the use of separate sources of metal: the Iranian branch was dependent on the North Caucasus, while the Indo-Aryan branch was oriented towards the Urals. It is argued that the Abashevo culture of the Mid-Volga-Kama-Belaya basins and the Sejma-Turbino trade network (2200–1900 BCE) were bilingual in Proto-Indo-Aryan and PFU, and introduced the PFU as the basis of West Uralic (Volga-Finnic) into the Netted Ware Culture of the Upper Volga-Oka (1900–200 BCE).

He updates thus his quite recent model from On the emergence, contacts and dispersal of Proto-Indo-European, Proto-Uralic and Proto-Aryan in an archaeological perspective (2017).

In it he supported a North-West Indo-European expansion with Corded Ware, and a Neolithic Proto-Uralic community in East Europe (associated with the Comb Ware culture), as I did before the famous 2015 papers.

In fact, he supports that the satemization trend of Proto-Indo-Iranian is due to a Proto-Finno-Ugric substratum in its population in the Volga-Ural region, similar to the model I propose (with the Corded Ware substratum hypothesis).

NOTE. While for Parpola the ‘satemizing’ substratum of Balto-Slavic (a NWIE dialect) may not come exactly from the same Finno-Ugric population as for Indo-Iranian, but from a different Uralic dialect (as I explain in my hypothesis), for the few extant supporters of an Indo-Slavonic group there should not be any problem identifying the same ancient substrate as for the Proto-Indo-Iranian population…

Now that North-West Indo-European is clearly associated with the Yamna -> Bell Beaker expansion, I understand that his previous model is obsolete and needs a revision.

I find it especially difficult to understand (in light of his previous theory) why he compares Indo-Aryan *vatsa– and Iranian *vasa– to assert that the former is the origin of the loanword in Finno-Ugric, when the Proto-Indo-Iranian form is essentially the same as the Indo-Aryan one, with respect to the *w– evolution into *v– in both PII and late FU dialects…

NOTE: I wrote him yesterday asking for this issue, I will post here his answer.

Potential spread of Finnic. “Distribution of the Netted Ware according to Carpelan (2002: 198). A: Emergence of the Netted Ware on the Upper Volga c. 1900 calBC. B: Spread of Netted Ware by c. 1800 calBC. C: Early Iron Age spread of Netted Ware. (After Carpelan 2002: 198 > Parpola 2012a: 151.)

His effort to link the actual expansion of Finno-Ugric to Corded Ware territory, linking it also partially to population movements from the Seima-Turbino phenomenon – probably associated with the initial expansion of N1c lineages – is another good example of convergence of the different anthropological theories thanks to recent Genomic studies.


North Pontic steppe Eneolithic cultures, and an alternative Indo-Slavonic model


I am not a fan of continuity theories – that much should be clear for anyone reading this blog. However, most of such proposals’ supremacist (or rather fear-of-inferiority) overtones don’t mean they have to be wrong. It just means that most of them, most of the time, most likely are.

While reading Tommenable’s comments, I thought about a potential alternative model, where one could a priori accept an identification of North Pontic cultures as ‘Indo-Slavonic’, which seems to be the Eastern European R1a continuist trend right now.

NOTE. To accept this model, one should first (not a posteriori) accept an Indo-Slavonic linguistic group on theoretical grounds, of course, and take the steppe ancestral component (and not archaeological data) as the most meaningful aspect to consider for language expansion and exchange (which we know is not the most intelligent approach to cultural or language change).

Thinking about how Genomics could challenge what mainstream Linguistics and Archaeology accepts, the only situation I can think of (using simplistic phylogeography) regarding late Khvalynsk-Sredni Stog contacts (until ca. 3300 BC) is:

  1. That the community of R1b-L51 lineages was in fact an isolated group , and not a western one – i.e. to the east within the Volga-Ural groups, or maybe to the south within the North Caucasian groups .
  2. That the R1b-Z2103 community was a huge one dominating over much of the steppe, from the Dnieper area to the Volga-Ural region (where we know they were).
  3. That R1a-M417 subclades (and especially subclade R1a-Z645) with steppe ancestry, as found in Corded Ware migrants,were only found in the North Pontic area (i.e. in Sredni Stog) during the fourth millennium (until at least 3300 BC, when Yamna substitutes it), and did not form other communities in the forest-steppe or Forest Zone (from where Corded Ware eventually expanded), as it is quite likely.
  4. That both the R1b-Z2103 and R1a-Z645 communities shared obvious genetic connections (whatever they were) around the Dnieper, that could justify a common, shared language.
Diachronic map of Eneolithic migrations in eastern Europe ca. 4000-3100 BC

Only then, if a widespread Graeco-Aryan-speaking community happened to be spread from west to east in the Pontic-Caspian steppe, with close contacts with North Pontic cultures, and having an isolated Northern Late PIE community somewhere different than West Yamna, it could leave for me a reasonable doubt of a cultural connection (maybe “Indo-Slavonic” in nature) of the North Pontic steppe. But then we would probably be stuck – yet again – with some sort of cultural diffusion event, impossible to demonstrate.

Since it is known (in Linguistics, and also in Y-DNA lineages, due to the early expansion of Z2103 subclades) that Graeco-Aryan groups separated early, this model would not be impossible.

Also a priori in favour of that model would be the early expansion of a (Northern IE-speaking) Pre-Tocharian population to the east. On the other hand, from an archaeological point of view, the group reaching Afanasevo seems to have expanded from Repin, just like the community expanding Yamna to the west of the Dnieper.

I really doubt there can be any serious discussion though, apart from amateur geneticists with a personal interest on this, because:

  • Graeco-Aryan is a Late PIE dialect, and Late PIE guesstimates are more recent than that.
  • Dialectal separation within a Late Proto-Indo-European language must have happened late, gradually, and in close contact, allowing for common innovations to spread through dialectal groups.
  • It does not make sense in terms of prehistoric cultures, since there is no direct connection or migration among steppe cultures but for the Novodanilovka and the Yamna expansions.
  • Indo-Slavonic is only supported by a handful of linguists, and not in the way or timing described in this model.

NOTE. You can read Kortlandt’s works in Academia.edu (also on his personal website) if you are really interested in knowing more about an Indo-Slavonic proposal, from an expert Balticist and Slavicist. However, if your intent is to demonstrate some ancient ethnic link of “your” people (whatever that means) to mythical Proto-Indo-Europeans, you would not need actual knowledge or sound theories to do that, so you can skip that part. Also, Kortlandt would probably support a later model of Indo-Slavonic expansion in the steppe, related to East Yamna, and later Sintashta, Srubna, etc…

Migration Yamna -> Corded Ware -> Bell Beaker as claimed by articles published in Nature (2015). From materials of the UAB.

If you think about it, if most modern Slavs were mainly of R1b-L23 lineages instead of R1a-Z645 (a replacement which, as it is clear know, is the consequence of a simple resurge of previous lineages in East-Central Europe, coupled with a later gradual replacement through founder effects, so no big migration history here), and Finnic speakers were mainly of R1a-Z645 lineages (whose replacement by N1c lineages seems also the consequence of quite late consecutive founder effects), I doubt we would be having this reticence to accept sound anthropological models.

So, we are speculating here for the sake of an unnecessary, naïve compromise…Just hoping to find some common ground to move on, now that the picture is clearer for everyone.

NOTE. The change of narratives where certain languages must have accompanied R1a-Z645 and N1c lineages, but in alternative ways not previously described, is obviously unjustified, if linguistic and archaeological data tell a different story. As unjustified as it is to change Yamna for “Neolithic Steppe” as homeland of Late Indo-European, to fit it with the steppe ancestry concept

See also:

Consequences of O&M 2018 (I): The latest West Yamna “outlier”


This is the first of a series of posts analyzing the findings of the recent Nature papers Olalde et al.(2018) and Mathieson et al.(2018) (abbreviated O&M 2018).

As expected, the first Y-DNA haplogroup of a sample from the North Pontic region (apart from an indigenous European I2 subclade) during its domination by the Yamna culture is of haplogroup R1b-L23, and it is dated ca. 2890-2696 BC. More specifically, it is of Z2103 subclade, the main lineage found to date in Yamna samples. The site in question is Dereivka, “in the southern part of the middle Dnieper, at the boundary between the forest-steppe and the steppe zones”.

NOTE: A bit of history for those lost here, which appear to be many: the classical Yamna culture – from previous late Khvalynsk, and (probably) Repin groupsspread west of the Don ca. 3300 BC creating a cultural-historical community – and also an early offshoot into Asia – , with mass migrations following some centuries later along the Danube to the Carpathian Basin, but also south into the Balkans, and north along the Prut. There is thus a very short time frame to find Yamna peoples shaping these massive migrations – the most likely speakers of Late Proto-Indo-European dialects – in Ukraine, compared to their most stable historical settlements east of the Don River.

There is no data on this individual in the supplementary material – since Eneolithic Dereivka samples come from stored dental remains – , but the radiocarbon date (if correct) is unequivocal: the Yamna cultural-historical community dominated over that region at that precise time. Why would the authors name it just “Ukraine_Eneolithic”? They surely took the assessment of archaeologists, and there is no data on it, so I agree this is the safest name to use for a serious paper. This would not be the first sample apparently too early for a certain culture (e.g. Catacomb in this case) which ends up being nevertheless classified as such. And it is also not impossible that it represents another close Ukraine Eneolithic culture, since ancestral cultural groups did not have borders…

NOTE. Why, on the other hand, was the sample from Zvejnieki – classified as of Latvia_LN – assumed to correspond to “Corded Ware” (like the recent samples from Plinkaigalis242 or Gyvakarai1), when we don’t have data on their cultures either? No conspiracy here, just taking assessments from different archaeologists in charge of these samples: those attributed to “Corded Ware” have been equally judged solely by radiocarbon date, but, combining the known archaeological signs of herding in the region arriving around this time with the old belief (similar to the “Iberia is the origin of Bell Beaker peoples” meme) that “only the Corded Ware culture signals the arrival of herding in the Baltic”. This assumption has been contested recently by Furholt, in an anthropological model that is now mainstream, upheld also by Anthony.

We already know that, out of three previous West Yamna samples, one shows Anatolian Neolithic ancestry, the so-called “Yamna outlier”. We also know that one sample from Yamna in Bulgaria also shows Anatolian Neolithic ancestry, with a distinct ‘southern’ drift, clustering closely to East Bell Beaker samples, as we can still see in Mathieson et al. (2018), see below. So, two “outliers” (relative to East Yamna samples) out of four samples… Now a new, fifth sample from Ukraine is another “outlier”, coinciding with (and possibly somehow late to be a part of) the massive migration waves into Central Europe and the Balkans predicted long ago by academics and now confirmed with Genomics.

I think there are two good explanations right now for its ancestral components and position in PCA:

Modified image from Mathieson et al. (2018), including also approximate location of groups from Mittnik et al. (2018), and group (transparent shape outlined by dots) formed by new Bell Beaker samples from Olalde et al. (2018). “Principal components analysis of ancient individuals. Points for 486 ancient individuals are projected onto principal components defined by 777 present-day west Eurasian individuals (grey points). Present-day individuals are shown.”

a) The most obvious one, that the Dnieper-Dniester territory must have been a melting pot, as I suggested, a region which historically connected steppe, forest steppe, and forest zone with the Baltic, as we have seen with early Baltic Neolithic samples (showing likely earlier admixture in the opposite direction). The Yamna population, a rapidly expanding “elite group of patrilineally-related families” (words from the famous 2015 genetic papers, not mine), whose only common genetic trait is therefore Y-DNA haplogroup R1b-L23, must have necessarily acquired other ancestral components of Eneolithic Ukraine during the migrations and settlements west of the Don River.

How many generations are needed for ancestral components and PCA clusters to change to that extent, in regions where only some patrilocal chiefs but indigenous populations remain, and the population probably admixed due to exogamy, back-migrations, and “resurge” events? Not many, obviously, as we see from the differences among the many Bell Beaker samples of R1b-L23 subclades from Olalde et al. (2018)

b) That this sample shows the first genetic sign of the precise population that contributed to the formation of the Catacomb culture. Since it is a hotly debated topic where and how this culture actually formed to gradually replace the Yamna culture in the central region of the Pontic-Caspian steppe, this sample would be a good hint of how its population came to be.

See e.g. for free articles on the Catacomb culture its article on the Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture, Catacomb culture wagons of the Eurasian steppes, or The Warfare of the Northern Pontic Steppe – Forest-Steppe Pastoral Societies: 2750 – 2000 B.C. There are also many freely available Russian and Ukrainian papers on anthropometry (a discipline I don’t especially like) which clearly show early radiocarbon dates for different remains.

This could then be not ‘just another West Yamna outlier’, but would actually show meaningful ‘resurge’ of Neolithic Ukraine ancestry in the Catacomb culture.

It could be meaningul to derive hypotheses, in the same way that the late Central European CWC sample from Esperstedt (of R1a-M417 subclade) shows recent exogamy directly from the (now more probably eastern part of the) steppe or steppe-forest, and thus implies great mobility among distant CWC groups. Although, given the BB samples with elevated steppe ancestry and close PCA cluster from Olalde et al. (2018), it could also just mean exogamy from a near-by region, around the Carpathian Basin where Yamna migrants settled…

If this was the case, it would then potentially mean a “continuity” break in the steppe, in the region that some looked for as a Balto-Slavic homeland, and which would have been only later replaced by Srubna peoples with steppe ancestry (and probably R1a-Z93 subclades). We would then be more obviously left with only two options: a hypothetic ‘Indo-Slavonic’ North Caspian group to the east (supported by Kortlandt), or a Central-East European homeland near Únětice, as one of the offshoots from the North-West Indo-European group (supported by mainstream Indo-Europeanists).

How to know which is the case? We have to wait for more samples in the region. For the moment, the date seems too early for the known radiocarbon dating of most archaeological remains of the Catacomb Culture.

Diachronic map of Late Copper Age migrations including steppe groups ca. 2600-2250 BC

An important consequence of the addition of these “Yamna outliers” for the future of research on Indo-European migrations is that, especially if confirmed as just another West Yamna sample – with more, similar samples – , early Palaeo-Balkan peoples migrating south of the Danube and later through Anatolia may need to be judged not only in terms of ancestral components or PCA (as in the paper on Minoans and Mycenaeans), but also and more decisively using phylogeography, especially with the earliest samples potentially connected with such migrations.

NOTE. Regarding the controversy (that some R1b European autochthonous continuists want to create) over the origin of the R1b-L151 lineages, we cannot state its presence for sure in Yamna territory right now, but we already have R1b-M269 in the eastern Pontic-Caspian steppe during the Neolithic-Chalcolithic transition, then R1b-L23 and subclades (mainly R1b-Z2013, but also one xZ2103, xL51 which suggests its expansion) in the region before and during the Yamna expansion, and now we have L51 subclades with elevated steppe ancestry in early East Bell Beakers, which most likely descended from Yamna settlers in the Carpathian Basin (yet to be sampled).

Even without express confirmation of its presence in the steppe, the alternative model of a Balkan origin seems unlikely, given the almost certain continuity of expanding Yamna clans as East Bell Beaker ones, in this clearly massive and relatively quick expansion that did not leave much time for founder effects. But, of course, it is not impossible to think about a previously hidden R1b-L151 community in the Carpathian Basin yet to be discovered, adopting North-West Indo-European (by some sort of founder effect) brought there by Yamna peoples of exclusively R1b-Z2103 lineages. As it is not impossible to think about a hidden and ‘magically’ isolated community of haplogroup R1a-M417 in Yamna waiting to be discovered…Just not very likely, either option.

As to why this sample or the other Bell Beaker samples “solve” the question of R1a-Z645 subclades (typical of Corded Ware migrants) not expanding with Yamna, it’s very simple: it doesn’t. What should have settled that question – in previous papers, at least since 2015 – is the absence of this subclade in elite chiefs of clans expanded from Khvalynsk, Yamna, or their only known offshoots Afanasevo and Bell Beaker. Now we only have still more proof, and no single ‘outlier’ in that respect.

No haplogroup R1a among hundreds of samples from a regionally extensive sampling of the only cultures mainstream archaeologists had thoroughly described as potentially representing Indo-European-speakers should mean, for any reasonable person (i.e. without a personal or professional involvement in an alternative hypothesis), that Corded Ware migrants (as expected) did not stem from Yamna, and thus did not spread Late Indo-European dialects.

This haplogroup’s hegemonic presence in North-Eastern Europe – and the lack of N1c lineages until after the Bronze Age – coinciding with dates when Uralicists have guesstimated Uralic dialectal expansion accross this wide region makes the question of the language spread with CWC still clearer. The only surprise would have been to find a hidden and isolated community of R1a-Z645 lineages clearly associated with the Yamna culture.

NOTE. A funny (however predictable) consequence for R1a autochthonous continuists of Northern or Eastern European ancestry: forum commentators are judging if this sample was of the Yamna culture or spoke Indo-European based on steppe component and PCA cluster of the few eastern Yamna samples which define now (you know, with the infallible ‘Yamnaya ancestral component’) the “steppe people” who spoke the “steppe language”™ – including, of course, North-Eastern European Late Neolithic

Not that radiocarbon dates or the actual origin of this sample cannot be wrong, mind you, it just strikes me how twisted such biased reasonings may be, depending on the specific sample at hand… Denial, anger, and bargaining, including shameless circular reasoning – we know the drill: we have seen it a hundred times already, with all kinds of supremacists autochthonous continuists who still today manage to place an oudated mythical symbolism on expanding Proto-Indo-Europeans, or on regional ethnolinguistic continuity…

More detailed posts on the new samples from O&M 2018 and their consequences for the Indo-European demic diffusion to come, indeed…

See also:

Reactionary views on new Yamna and Bell Beaker data, and the newest IECWT model


You might expect some rambling about bad journalism here, but I don’t have time to read so much garbage to analyze them all. We have seen already what they did with the “blackness” or “whiteness” of the Cheddar Man: no paper published, just some informal data, but too much sensationalism already.

Some people who supported far-fetched theories on Indo-European migrations or common European haplogroups are today sharing some weeping and gnashing of teeth around forums and blogs – although, to be fair, neither Olalde et al. (2018) nor Mathieson et al. (2018) actually gave any surprising new data that you couldn’t infer before… People are nevertheless in the middle of the five stages of grief (for whatever expectations they had for new samples), and acceptance will surely take some time.

They will be confronted with two options:

  1. Keep fighting for what they believed, however wrong it turns out to be – after all, we still see all kinds of autochthonous continuists out there, no matter how much data there is against their views. People want to be supporters of a West European origin of R1b-M269 linked to Vasconic languages, fans of R1b-M269 continuity in Central Europe, Uralic speakers who believe in hidden N1c communities in Mesolithic or Neolithic Eastern Europe, fans of the OIT and Indian origins of R1a-M417…
  2. Just accept what seems now clear, change their model, and go on.
Modified from Wiik for the current autochthonous continuity fans: Vasconic-Uralic distribution and Indo-European folk distribution

For me, the second option sounds quite simple, since whatever happens – markers of Indo-European migration being R1a or R1b, Corded Ware or Bell Beaker, or bothour group’s aim for the past 15 years or so is to support a North-West Indo-European proto-language, so any of the most reasonable anthropological models are a priori compatible with that. My model of Indo-European demic diffusion fits best the most recent proto-language guesstimates, though.

However, I understand that if I had been buying or selling dreams – and I mean literally buying or selling fantasies of whiteness and Europeanness (hidden behind an idealized concept of “Indo-European”, and ancestral components disguised as populations), beginning with the ‘R1a-M417/CWC’ and ‘Yamnaya ancestry’ craze of the 2015 papers – , and I realized data didn’t support that money exchange, I would be frustrated, too.

There is a funny mental process going on here for some of these people, as far as I could read today. Let me review some history of the Indo-European question here before getting to the point:

  1. Firstly linguists reconstructed (and are still doing it) Proto-Indo-European and other ancestral Indo-European proto-languages.
  2. Then archaeologists tried to identify certain ancestral cultures with these actual communities with help from linguistic guesstimates and dialectal classifications,
  3. using anthropological models of migration or cultural diffusion.
  4. Then genetic data came to support one of these alternative anthropological models, if possible.

Now some (amateur) geneticists are apparently disregarding what “Indo-European” means, and why Yamna was considered the best candidate for the expansion of Late Indo-European languages, and question the very sciences of Linguistics and Archaeology as unreliable, instead of questioning their own false assumptions and wrong interpretations from genetic papers.

Really? Genomics (especially ancestral components) now defines what an Indo-European population, culture, and language is? If that is not a fallacy of circular reasoning, I wonder what is.

The modified IECWT model

The surprise today came from the quick reaction of one member of the IECWT workgroup, Guus Kroonen, in his draft Comments to Olalde et al. 2018., The Beaker phenomenon and the genomic, transformation of northwest Europe, Nature.

Allentoft Corded Ware
The IECWT workgroup’s so-called “Steppe model” until today, as presented in Haak et al. (2015).

He and – I can only guess – the whole IECWT workgroup finally rejected their characteristic Corded Ware -> Bell Beaker migration model – which they defended as “The steppe model” of Indo-European migration in Haak et al. 2015. They now defend a proposal similar to Anthony (2007).

Fan fact: Anthony changed his mind recently to partially support what Heyd said in 2007. While I did not dislike Anthony’s new model, I consider it wrong.

The Danish group – unsurprisingly – sticks nevertheless to the hypothesis of some kind of autochthonous Germanic in Scandinavia being defined by Corded Ware migrants and haplogroup R1a, and being somehow special and older among Proto-Indo-European dialects because of its non-Indo-European substrate – although in fact Kroonen’s original linguistic paper didn’t imply so.

While this new change of the workgroup’s model brings it closer to Heyd (2007), and parallels in that sense the adaptation process of Anthony (but always one step behind), what they are proposing right now seems not anymore a modified Kurgan model, as I described it: it is essentially The Kurgan model of Marija Gimbutas (1963), with Bell Beakers spreading a language ancestral to Italo-Celtic, and Corded Ware spreading some kind of mythical Germano-Balto-Slavic

I find it odd that he would not cite Gimbutas, Heyd – as Anthony recently did – , or the most recent paper of Mallory on the language expanded with Bell Beakers, but just the workgroup’s papers and other old ones, to present this “new” theory.

However simple and (obviously) rapidly drafted it was, following the publications in Nature, it does not seem right: They were first, they were right, acknowledge them. Period.

It is interesting how the wrong interpretations of the ‘Yamnaya ancestral component’ (you know, that bulletproof “Yamna R1a-R1b community” and Yamna->Corded Ware migration that never happened) is affecting everyone involved in Indo-European studies.


Olalde et al. and Mathieson et al. (Nature 2018): R1b-L23 dominates Bell Beaker and Yamna, R1a-M417 resurges in East-Central Europe during the Bronze Age

The official papers Olalde et al. (Nature 2018) and Mathieson et al. (Nature 2018) have appeared. They are based on the 2017 preprints at BioRxiv The Beaker Phenomenon And The Genomic Transformation Of Northwest Europe and The Genomic History Of Southeastern Europe respectively, but with a sizeable number of new samples.

Papers are behind a paywall, but here are the authors’ shareable links to read the papers and supplementary materials: Olalde et al. (2018), Mathieson et al. (2018).

NOTE: The corresponding datasets have been added to the Reich Lab website. Remember you can use my drafts on DIY Human Ancestry analysis (viz. Plink/Eigensoft, PCA, or ADMIXTURE) to investigate the data further in your own computer.

Image modified by me, from Olalde et al (2018). PCA of 999 Eurasian individuals. Marked is the late CWC outlier sample from Esperstedt, showing how early East Bell Beaker samples are the closest to Yamna samples.

I don’t have time to analyze the samples in detail right now, but in short they seem to convey the same information as before: in Olalde et al. (2018) the pattern of Y-DNA haplogroup and steppe ancestry distribution is overwhelming, with an all-R1b-L23 Bell Beaker people accompanying steppe ancestry into western Europe.

EDIT: In Mathieson et al. (2018), a sample classified as of Ukraine_Eneolithic from Dereivka ca. 2890-2696 BC is of R1b1a1a2a2-Z2103 subclade, so Western Yamna during the migrations also of R1b-L23 subclades, in contrast with the previous R1a lineages in Ukraine. In Olalde et al. (2018), it is clearly stated that of the four BB individuals with higher steppe ancestry, the two with higher coverage could be classified as of R1b-S116/P312 subclades.

This is compatible with the expansion of Indo-European-speaking Yamna migrants (also mainly of R1b-L23 subclades) into the East Bell Beaker group, as described with detail in Archaeology (and with the population movement we are seeing having been predicted) first by Volker Heyd in 2007.

Yamna – East Bell Beaker migration 3000-2300 BC. Adapted from Harrison and Heyd (2007), Heyd (2007)

Also, the resurge of R1a-Z645 subclades in Czech and Polish lands (from previous Corded Ware migrants) accompanying other lineages indigenous to the region – seems to have happened only after the Bell Beaker expansion into these territories, during the Bronze Age, probably leading to the formation of the Balto-Slavic community, as I predicted based on previous papers. The fact that a sample of R1b-U106 subclade pops up in this territory is interesting from the point of view of a shared substrate with Germanic, as is the earlier BB sample of R1b-Z2103 for its connection with Graeco-Aryan dialects.

All this suggests that a North-West Indo-European dialect – ancestor of Italo-Celtic, Germanic, and Balto-Slavic -, supported in Linguistics by most modern Indo-European schools of thought, expanded roughly along the Danube, and later to northern, eastern, and western Europe with the Bell Beaker expansion, as supported in Anthropology by Mallory (in Celtic from the West 2, 2013), and by Prescott for the development of a Nordic or Pre-Germanic language in Scandinavia since 1995.

Diachronic map of Late Copper Age migrations including Classical Bell Beaker (east group) expansion from central Europe ca. 2600-2250 BC

Maybe more importantly, the fact that only Indo-Iranian-speaking Sintashta-Petrovka (and later Andronovo) cultures were clearly associated with R1a-Z645 subclades, and rather late – after mixing with early Chalcolithic North Caspian steppe groups (mainly East Yamna and Poltavka herders of R1b-L23 subclades) – gives support to the theory that Corded Ware (and probably the earlier Sredni Stog) groups did not speak or spread Indo-European languages with their migration, but most likely Uralic – as seen in recent papers on the much later arrival of haplogroup N1c – (compatible with the Corded Ware substrate hypothesis), adopting Indo-Iranian by way of cultural diffusion or founder effect events.

As Sheldon Cooper would say,

Under normal circumstances I’d say I told you so. But, as I have told you so with such vehemence and frequency already the phrase has lost all meaning. Therefore, I will be replacing it with the phrase, I informed you thusly

I informed you thusly:

Corded Ware pastoral herding economy and belief system through mortuary practices


On the scent of an animal skin: new evidence on Corded Ware mortuary practices in Northern Europe, Antiquity (2018) 92(361):118-131.

Abstract (emphasis mine):

The Late Neolithic Corded Ware Culture (c. 2800–2300 BC) of Northern Europe is characterised by specific sets of grave goods and mortuary practices, but the organic components of these grave sets are poorly represented in the archaeological record. New microscopic analyses of soil samples collected during the 1930s from the Perttulanmäki grave in western Finland have, however, revealed preserved Neolithic animal hairs. Despite mineralisation, the species of animal has been successfully identified and offers the oldest evidence for domestic goat in Neolithic Finland, indicating a pastoral herding economy. The mortuary context of the goat hair also suggests that animals played a significant role in the Corded Ware belief system.


Although the material culture used in Corded Ware funerary rituals is well known, a full appreciation of the associated mortuary practices is still lacking. In fact, even though evidence for internal wooden and stone structures is commonly documented in Corded Ware mortuary contexts (e.g. Fischer 1956; Malmer 1962; Hansen 1994; Vander Linden 2007), detailed information on the ways that structures within the grave might have been furnished is largely missing. The use of textiles, mats and furs to cover grave pit walls and floors is commonly documented in Yamnaya Culture graves (Heyd 2011). This culture represents the best-known proxy for the incoming gene-flow that occurred in Europe during the third millennium BC, resulting in the formation of the Corded Ware phenomenon (Allentoft et al. 2015; Haak et al. 2015; Kristiansen et al. 2017). Similar practices may, therefore, have occurred in the Corded Ware tradition. In fact, the Corded Ware graves already show strong affinities to the Yamnaya burial rituals; for example, in the practice of a single inhumation under a barrow (Kristiansen et al. 2017: 336). New information on Corded Ware mortuary practices has come from the northern periphery of the cultural area. The results are based on microscopic analyses conducted on soil samples collected from the Perttulanmäki Corded Ware grave in western Finland (Figure 1). These analyses suggest that a goat skin had been placed in the grave. This discovery is important as it provides clear evidence of a mortuary practice that has only in rare cases been previously suspected (e.g. Torvinen 1979; Meurkens et al. 2015).

Location of the Perttulanmäki site. The distribution of the Corded Ware phenomenon in Finland is marked in
orange. Map: K. Vajanto.

The animal accompaniment could be present in various forms. Several Corded Ware burials in the Baltic area have been furnished with artefacts made of domestic animal bone (Zagorska 2006: 103; Lõugas et al. 2007: 25–26; Larsson 2009: 63). That all milk residues from Finnish Corded Ware pottery were found exclusively in beakertype ‘drinking’ vessels (Cramp et al. 2014: 4) further supports this idea. These beakers are usually found in grave deposits (Edgren 1970: 76–77; Larsson 2009: 352), so the animal could have also been represented by placing milk, or a vessel connected with milk, in the grave (Edgren 1970: 76–77; Larsson 2009: 352). This being said, it must be noted that, due to the vast distribution area of the Corded Ware phenomenon, the same objects or symbols might not have been connected with the same ideas (Furholt 2014: 82). Moreover, some prehistoric societies might have also repeated the ritual practice simply as tradition—after its original meaning had been forgotten (Nilsson Stutz 2003: 319).

Interesting indeed regarding the culture behind Corded Ware herders in the Baltic Sea (quite likely speakers of Uralic languages) but also formally the emphasis on Yamna as a proxy population for Corded Ware migrants (which we had already seen in geneticists answering to criticism).

Interesting also how an article about the Corded Ware culture selects Volker Heyd – an expert in Yamna migration and in the Yamna -> Bell Beaker migration, who rejects a relationship between Yamna and Corded Ware migrants, and between Corded Ware and Bell Beaker peoples – over Kristiansen and his IE-CWC research group, who are supposedly the fashionable experts in CWC right now for certain amateur geneticists…

It would seem as if academic pressure is making the hype around (the wrong interpretations of) the 2015 papers (and the group behind them) fade…

See also:

Corded Ware culture contacts in the Baltic Sea region linked to immigrant potters


Article behind paywall Tracing grog and pots to reveal neolithic Corded Ware Culture contacts in the Baltic Sea region (SEM-EDS, PIXE) by Larsson et al., J. Archaeol. Sci. (2018) 91:77-91.

Abstract (emphasis mine):

The Neolithic Corded Ware Culture (CWC) complex spread across the Baltic Sea region ca. 2900/2800–2300/2000 BCE. Whether this cultural adaptation was driven by migration or diffusion remains widely debated. To gather evidence for contact and movement in the CWC material culture, grog-tempered CWC pots from 24 archaeological sites in southern Baltoscandia (Estonia and the southern regions of Finland and Sweden) were sampled for geochemical and micro-structural analyses. Scanning electron microscopy with energy dispersive spectrometry (SEM-EDS) and particle-induced X-ray emission (PIXE) were used for geochemical discrimination of the ceramic fabrics to identify regional CWC pottery-manufacturing traditions and ceramic exchange. Major and minor element concentrations in the ceramic body matrices of 163 individual vessels and grog temper (crushed pottery) present in the ceramic fabrics were measured by SEM-EDS. Furthermore, the high-sensitivity PIXE technique was applied for group confirmation. The combined pot and grog matrix data reveal eight geochemical clusters. At least five geochemical groups appeared to be associated with specific find locations and regional manufacturing traditions. The results indicated complex inter-site and cross-Baltic Sea pottery exchange patterns, which became more defined through the grog data, i.e., the previous generations of pots. The CWC pottery exhibited high technological standards at these latitudes, which, together with the identified exchange patterns and the existing evidence of mobility based on human remains elsewhere in the CWC complex, is indicative of the relocation of skilled potters, possibly through exogamy. An analytical protocol for the geochemical discrimination of grog-tempered pottery, and its challenges and possibilities, is presented.

Meolithic Corded Ware Culture sites studied in the Baltic Sea region

We are seeing a growing complexity for the definition of the Corded Ware culture in anthropological models that help us understand genomic data, including its precise origins and expansion, and indeed for the question of the expansion of ancient Uralic languages in the region.


The concept of “Outlier” in Human Ancestry (III): Late Neolithic samples from the Baltic region and origins of the Corded Ware culture


I have written before about how the Late Neolithic sample from Zvejnieki seemed to be an outlier among Corded Ware samples (read also the Admixture analysis section on the IEDDM), due to its position in PCA, even more than its admixture components or statistical comparison might show.

In the recent update to Northern European samples in Mittnik et al. (2018), an evaluation of events similar to the previous preprint (2017) is given:

Computing D-statistics for each individual of the form D(Baltic LN, Yamnaya; X, Mbuti), we find that the two individuals from the early phase of the LN (Plinkaigalis242 and Gyvakarai1, dating to ca. 3200–2600 calBCE) form a clade with Yamnaya (Supplementary Table 7), consistent with the absence of the farmer-associated component in ADMIXTURE (Fig. 2b). Younger individuals share more alleles with Anatolian and European farmers (Supplementary Table 7) as also observed in contemporaneous Central European CWC individuals2.

Sampling locations and dating of 38 ancient Northern European samples introduced in this study. Chronology based on calibrated radiocarbon dates or relative dating

My interpretation of the Zvejnieki sample ca. 2880 BC (and thus also of the only Baltic LN sample forming a close cluster with it) as ‘outlier’ seems thus reinforced as more samples come in. My explanation based on exogamy is one possibility for the region. After all, great mobility and exogamy practices are universally accepted for the Corded Ware territory, and Yamna migrants had settled up along the Prut precisely around this period (ca. 3100-2900 BC), so this kind of relation between Yamna and Baltic samples is to be expected.

NOTE: Information on the Late Neolithic burial of Zvejnieki is scarce, since it is an isolated find in radiocarbon analysis, among Mesolithic burials. You can read more about it from Ilga Zagorska’s studies, such as The use of ochre in Stone Age burials of the East Baltic (2008), The persistent presence of the dead: recent excavations at the hunter-gatherer cemetery at Zvejnieki (Latvia) (Antiquity 2013), or Dietary freshwater reservoir effects and the radiocarbon ages of prehistoric human bones from Zvejnieki, Latvia (J. Archaeol. Sci. 2016).

Samples of Baltic “Late Neolithic / Corded Ware culture”

The only two samples clustering more closely to Yamna cluster also closely to the three previous samples from Khvalynsk in Samara (labelled ‘Steppe Eneolithic’ in the paper), which makes one wonder how strongly connected were cultures from the forest and forest-steppe zones before the expansion of Corded Ware and Yamna settlers.

NOTE: Apart from the scarcity of samples available, which is common in genetic studies, the description of both additional ‘outlier’ samples of the Baltic Late Neolithic – isolated finds based mainly on radiocarbon analysis – leaves a lot to the imagination, because of the lack of cultural context and potential problems with dating methods:

Plinkaigalis 242, >40 year old female (OxA-5936, 4280 ± 75 BP, 3260–2630 calBCE). The burial site is located in the plains of central Lithuania on the eastern bank of the river Šušvė on the outskirts of the Plinkaigalis village, approximately 400 m southeast of an Iron age hill fort and settlement. The burial site was discovered in 1975 when local residents started digging for gravel in the western part of the hill. The same year site was granted a legal protection with archaeological excavations carried out for eight straight years in a row (1977-1984). During the eight years of fieldwork a total of 373 graves (364 inhumation and 9 cremation graves) with all but two of them dating to 3rd to 8th c. AD were uncovered. The two exceptional graves (no. 241, 242) were uncovered in the northern part of the burial site and C14 dated to the Late Neolithic.

Gyvakarai 1, 35-40 year old male (Poz-61584, 4030 ± 30 BP, 2620–2470 calBCE). The burial site is located in the northern part of Lithuania on the steep gravelly bank (elevation up to 79 m a. s. l.) of the rivulet Žvikė, 500 m to the south from where, in the wet grassland valley, it meets the main stem river Pyvesa. The site was discovered in 2000 when local residents started digging for gravel in the central part of the gravelly bank. The same year rescue excavations were conducted in the surrounding area of the highly disturbed grave resulting in discovery of a single grave C14 dated to the Late Neolithic.

EDIT (16 FEB 2018): A commentator noted that Gyvakaray1 was also studied for Yersinia pestis, a disease which appears to have expanded first to the west from the steppe, and then to the east, so it is possible that its position in PCA related to Plinkaigalis242 shows a connection to late Yamna settlers or East Bell Beaker migrants.

File modified by me from Mittnik et al. (2018) to include the approximate position of the most common ancestral components, and an identification of potential outliers. Zoomed-in version of the European Late Neolithic and Bronze Age samples. “Principal components analysis of 1012 present-day West Eurasians (grey points, modern Baltic populations in dark grey) with 294 projected published ancient and 38 ancient North European samples introduced in this study (marked with a red outline).

NOTE: I haven’t had the time and patience to work with my virtual computer on the PCA of these new samples – my CPU is reaching everyday its limit and my fans work half the time – , so I don’t know exactly which of them is Plinkaigalis242 and which Gyvakarai1, I just made a wild guess (based on ADMIXTURE) that the earlier Plinkaigalis242 forms a common ‘outlier’ group with Zvejnieki; if they are reversed or otherwise wrong in the image, please correct me. It will be much appreciated.

We can see from the additional samples in Mittnik et al. (2018) that the common cluster formed by most Baltic LN samples in PCA (most of them with clear cultural context among Late Neolithic or Corded Ware material, unlike the two ‘outliers’ and Gyvakarai1) is among Ukraine Eneolithic samples, European Corded Ware samples, and also Mesolithic-Neolithic samples from the Baltic. This is a logical find in light of the mainstream opinion that the expansion of the third horizon of the Corded Ware culture seems to have begun in the Dnieper-Dniester region (a corridor of steppe, steppe-forest, and forest zones) ca. 3300 BC.

PCA and ADMIXTURE analysis reflecting three time periods in Northern European prehistory. a Principal components analysis of 1012 present-day West Eurasians (grey points, modern Baltic populations in dark grey) with 294 projected published ancient and 38 ancient North European samples introduced in this study (marked with a red outline). Population labels of modern West Eurasians are given in Supplementary Fig. 7 and a zoomed-in version of the European Late Neolithic and Bronze Age samples is provided in Supplementary Fig. 8. b Ancestral components in ancient individuals estimated by ADMIXTURE (k = 11)

Corded Ware culture origins

If we take the most recent reliable radiocarbon analyses of material culture, and interpretations based on them of Corded Ware as a ‘complex’ similar to Bell Beaker (accepted more and more by disparate academics such as Anthony or Klejn), it seems that the controversial ‘massive’ Corded Ware migration must have begun somehow later than previously thought, which leaves these early Baltic samples still less clearly part of the initial Corded Ware culture, and more as outliers waiting for a more precise cultural context among Late Neolithic changes in the region.

Their situation in PCA among Khvalynsk (Samara), Baltic Mesolithic, East Hunger-Gatherer samples, Yamna and Eneolithic Ukraine leaves us without enough information to understand their actual origin.

EDIT (3 FEB 2018): In the first edition of my IEDDM paper I based the potential expansion of the Corded Ware culture mainly on Piezonka’s detailed analyses of the evolution of Mesolithic and Neolithic cultures in the forest-steppe and Forest Zone, and on later phylogeographic finds, since there were no samples from these regions in this interesting period. I revised it in the second edition to accomodate the model to the Indo-Uralic proto-language supported by the Leiden school, and identified it with a a close Neolithic-Chalcolithic steppe community based on common language guesstimates and – after the latest revision of Mathieson et al. (2017) – on the appearance of steppe admixture in the steppe.

However, if traditional Uralicists are right in supposing a loose Neolithic community in the Forest Zone, and Kristiansen is right in supposing long-lasting contacts in the Dniester-Dnieper region, we might actually be seeing with these ‘outliers’ the first proof that Neolithic samples from the forest-steppe and Forest Zone of the 4th millenium – unrelated to the Corded Ware culture – clustered closely to Khvalynsk, Sredni Stog, or Yamna samples, which is compatible with Piezonka’s accounts of intercultural contacts.

Martin Furholt‘s assessment of the origin of the A-horizon of the Corded Ware culture would put the early dates of Late Neolithic in the Baltic coinciding with or just before the initial expansion of Corded Ware migrants. For example, here are some excerpts (emphasis mine) from Re-evaluating Corded Ware Variability in Late Neolithic Europe (2014), in Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society (you can read it free at Academia.edu):

Radiocarbon analysis

Acceptance of the results of radiometric dating meant that the concept of the so called ‘A-Horizon’ also had to be reformulated. If we are dealing with such a phase at all, it is not a classic typological period that is defined by a uniform material culture inventory, but rather a set of types which show a wide distribution, but which are always integrated into a locally specific and thus regionally variable context.

The situation resembles that of the Bell Beakers, where a few supra-regional types are associated with local forms of ‘Begleitkeramik’ (i.e. pottery that accompanies Bell Beakers: Strahm 1995; Besse 1996).

The distribution data indicate that this set of forms (namely the A-Beaker, ‘A-Amphora’, and A-Battle Axe, as well as Herringbone-decorated Beakers) was to be found over much of Europe around 2700 BC, and that the currency of these forms was not short: they seem to have been used continuously during the Final Neolithic, perhaps even until 2000 BC (Fig. 3; Furholt 2004). Analysis of the radiometric and dendrochronological determinations also indicates that the A-Horizon is not the earliest Corded Ware phase. Instead, it appears to follow an apparent earlier phase in Poland during which Corded Ware pottery was in use from as early as 2900 BC (Furholt 2003; 2008a; Wödarczak 2006; Ullrich 2008).

Chronological model following from radiocarbon dating. Mark the contrast to the traditional model of the A-horizon as the earliest phase and a successive increase in regional variability later on

Corded Ware and Yamna/Bell Beaker

While widening networks and a change in the mechanism of exchange appears to have contributed to the emergence of the Corded Ware archaeological phenomenon, and also the contemporaneous Yamnaya graves (Harrison & Heyd 2007) and the following Bell Beaker and Early Bronze Age phenomena, it remains to be seen exactly what factors contributed to the development of these systems. It may be that there were changes in subsistence practices, perhaps involving a rising importance of animal herding that subsequently required higher mobility (for a discussion see Dörfler & Müller 2008), but considering the obvious diversity in subsistence patterns present in different Corded Ware groups, such an explanation would seem appropriate for the transformation in some regions, but surely not for the eastern hunterfisher-gatherer groups of the Baltic (Bläuer & Kantanen 2013). Also, trade with amber and copper might have played its role, but there are so far no indications for a significant rise in quantity or reach of these two materials in connection with Corded Ware graves or settlements (Furholt 2003, 125–7).

The impacts of animal traction and the wagon are also to be taken into account, as they are present since 3400 BC (Mischka 2011) but does at least not play any visible role in Corded Ware burial rituals, very much in contrast to the previous periods (Johannsen & Laursen 2010). There is no evidence for horse riding, but the domesticated horse seems to be present in central Europe since before 3000 BC (Becker 1999) and have also been found in Corded Ware settlements (Becker 2008), but again the evidence of domesticated horses is much more abundant in the period before 3000 BC.

So, concerning amber and copper exchange, or the impact of the wheel and animal traction, there is the recurrent motive of stronger evidence for the period before 3000 BC than during or in connection to Corded Ware finds after 2700 BC.

Summary table for the chronological positions (extent of name plus vertical lines) of the most important traditional archaeological ‘cultures’, ‘Groups’ or pottery styles discussed in this paper. Note that the definitions of those units are far from consistent or comparable, because they derive from different national and regional research traditions. Bold letters indicate a unit connected to the Corded Ware phenonomenon


The evidence strongly points towards a long period of coalescence from 3000 to 2700 BC, when several innovations in burial customs, pottery, and tool types sprung forth from different places and subsequently spread via different networks of exchange and interaction. These surely showed a significant rise in scale, reach, and impact on local practices, but the same is true for the contemporary Globular Amphora and Yamnaya ‘Cultures’. This exchange resulted, roughly spoken, in a phenomenon like the A-Horizon.


Thus, it seems reasonable to explain the wide regional reach of those Corded Ware elements as the result of a general increase in mobility and thus an increase in the spatial extension of regional networks, triggered by the long-term effects of technological innovations and connected economic and social transformations in Europe since 3400 BC. It is the increase in mobility and regional networks that is new to the European Neolithic Societies after this time, and it is not only the Corded Ware elements, that are spread through these channels but also Yamnaya, Globular Amphorae, Bell Beaker ‘Cultures’, and copper and bronze artefacts in later periods. Those are archaeological classification units, heuristic tools for the ordering of finds, while brushing over variability and overlapping traits, and so they should not be confused with real social groups.

Network analysis based on the quantitative occurrence of Corded Ware pottery forms, pottery ornamentation styles, tools, weapons and ornaments as stated in Table 1, based on the catalogues given in Table 2, line thickness representing similarity

As a summary, we can say that there is still much work to be done on the origins and expansion of the Corded Ware culture, and that speculative interpretations of recent genetic papers (especially since 2015), based solely on scarce genetic finds, are not doing much in favour of sound anthropological models by connecting directly Yamna to Corded Ware (and the latter to Bell Beaker), as the multiple new anthropological ‘steppe’ models (and their unending revisions due to the gradual corrections from ‘Yamnaya’ to ‘steppe’ admixture in genetic papers) are showing.

Featured image, from Furholt’s article: Map of the Corded Ware regions discussed for central Europe. The dark shading indicates those regions where Corded Ware burial rituals are present regularly.


“How Asian nomadic herders built new Bronze Age cultures”

I recently wrote about a good informal summary of genomic research in 2017 for geneticists.

I found a more professional review article, How Asian nomadic herders built new Bronze Age cultures, by Bruce Bower, appeared in Science News (25th Nov. 2017).

NOTE: I know, I know, the Pontic-Caspian steppe is in East Europe, not Asia, but what can you do about people’s misconceptions regarding European geography? After all, the division is a conventional one, there are not many landmarks to divide Eurasia…

It refers to Kristiansen’s model, which we already know supports the expansion of IE languages with the Corded Ware culture, and a later Corded Ware -> Bell Beaker migration. This is followed by many geneticists today as “The steppe model”.

Corded Ware culture emerged as a hybrid way of life that included crop cultivation, breeding of farm animals and some hunting and gathering, Kristiansen argues. Communal living structures and group graves of earlier European farmers were replaced by smaller structures suitable for families and single graves covered by earthen mounds. Yamnaya families had lived out of their wagons even before trekking to Europe. A shared emphasis on family life and burying the dead individually indicates that members of the Yamnaya and Corded Ware cultures kept possessions among close relatives, in Kristiansen’s view.

“The Yamnaya and the Corded Ware culture were unified by a new idea of transmitting property between related individuals and families,” Kristiansen says.

Yamnaya migrants must have spoken a fledgling version of Indo-European languages that later spread across Europe and parts of Asia, Kristiansen’s group contends. Anthony, a longtime Kristiansen collaborator, agrees. Reconstructed vocabularies for people of the Corded Ware culture include words related to wagons, wheels and horse breeding that could have come only from the Yamnaya, Anthony says.

As Indo-European languages spread, the Yamnaya’s genetic impact in Europe remained substantial, even after the disappearance of Corded Ware culture around 4,400 years ago, Reich’s team reported online May 9 at bioRxiv.org. About 50 percent of the ancestry of individuals from a later Bronze Age culture, dubbed the Bell Beaker culture for its pottery vessels shaped like an inverted bell, derived from Yamnaya stock. Such pottery spread across much of Europe starting nearly 4,770 years ago and disappeared by 3,800 years ago. Migrations of either people or ideas may have accounted for that dispersal.

NOTE. Anthony, as we know, has already changed his mind with the most recent data.

The author juxtaposes other opinions, to somehow balance the article:

Like many of his colleagues, archaeologist Volker Heyd of the University of Bristol in England was jolted by the 2015 reports of a close genetic link between Asian herders and a Bronze Age culture considered native to Europe. But, Heyd says, the story of ancient Yamnaya migrations is more complex than the rapid-change scenario sketched out by Kristiansen and Anthony.

No evidence exists that Yamnaya people rapidly developed practices typical of the Corded Ware culture in one part of Europe, Heyd argues in the April Antiquity. Cultural shifts in Europe around 5,000 years ago must have emerged from an extended series of small-scale dealings with Yamnaya and other pastoralists, which was then capped off by a large influx of steppe wagon travelers, he says.

For instance, individual graves and other signs of contact with the Yamnaya people and even earlier Asian pastoralists appear in Europe 1,000 to 2,000 years before DNA-transforming migrations occurred. Consider that the Yamnaya account for 5 percent of the ancestry of Ötzi the Iceman, who lived in southeastern Europe roughly 300 years before the Yamnaya’s big move (SN: 5/27/17, p. 13). Little is known about those earlier encounters.

Efforts to decipher ties between Yamnaya and Corded Ware culture are complicated by the fact that DNA is available from just a few people from each group, says Heyd, who is currently excavating Yamnaya graves in Hungary. Ancient DNA samples analyzed in the 2015 papers come from only a handful of Yamnaya and Corded Ware culture sites in a few parts of Europe and Russia.

Heyd suspects that Yamnaya travelers had even earlier contacts, perhaps by 5,400 years ago, with central and eastern Europeans known for making globe-shaped pots with small handles. Individuals from that culture, excavated at two sites in Poland and Ukraine, possess no Yamnaya genes, a team affiliated with Reich’s lab reported online May 9 at bioRxiv.org. But Heyd thinks mating between members of that European culture and Yamnaya migrants may have occurred a bit farther east, where cross-cultural contacts probably occurred at the boundary of European forests and Asian grasslands.

Other genetic clues point to a long history of Asian pastoralists crossing into parts of Europe. Small amounts of DNA from steppe herders, possibly the Yamnaya, appeared in three hunter-gatherer skeletons from southeastern Europe dating to as early as around 6,500 years ago.

It is always interesting to see how reports gradually evolve, including more and more doubts about the ‘Yamnaya component’, and how it may be correctly interpreted. Slow but steady wins the race.

Check out the full article.

Featured image: from the article, based on the 2015 papers and Kristiansen’s model.

See also: