Forces driving grammatical change are different to those driving lexical change

Grammar change

A new paper at PNAS, Evolutionary dynamics of language systems, by Greenhill et al. (2017).

Significance

Do different aspects of language evolve in different ways? Here, we infer the rates of change in lexical and grammatical data from 81 languages of the Pacific. We show that, in general, grammatical features tend to change faster and have higher amounts of conflicting signal than basic vocabulary. We suggest that subsystems of language show differing patterns of dynamics and propose that modeling this rate variation may allow us to extract more signal, and thus trace language history deeper than has been previously possible.

Abstract

Understanding how and why language subsystems differ in their evolutionary dynamics is a fundamental question for historical and comparative linguistics. One key dynamic is the rate of language change. While it is commonly thought that the rapid rate of change hampers the reconstruction of deep language relationships beyond 6,000–10,000 y, there are suggestions that grammatical structures might retain more signal over time than other subsystems, such as basic vocabulary. In this study, we use a Dirichlet process mixture model to infer the rates of change in lexical and grammatical data from 81 Austronesian languages. We show that, on average, most grammatical features actually change faster than items of basic vocabulary. The grammatical data show less schismogenesis, higher rates of homoplasy, and more bursts of contact-induced change than the basic vocabulary data. However, there is a core of grammatical and lexical features that are highly stable. These findings suggest that different subsystems of language have differing dynamics and that careful, nuanced models of language change will be needed to extract deeper signal from the noise of parallel evolution, areal readaptation, and contact.

This is in line with the studies by Bendt, like Adaptive Communication: Languages with More Non-Native Speakers Tend to Have Fewer Word Forms, which suggest a simplification of grammar with language contact.

It might then give further support to my proposal of Uralic as the Corded Ware substrate – common to Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian -, since they are the only Late Indo-European branches that clearly retain the grammatical complexity in word forms, which – together with their shared phonetic isoglosses (also present partially between Balto-Slavic and Germanic) -, put them nearer to a complex, potentially related Uralic (or other Indo-Uralic) branch.

On the other hand, the finding of a greater stability of lexicon gives further support to the concept of a North-West Indo-European group, since one of its foundations (the main one originally) is the shared vocabulary between Italo-Celtic, Germanic, and Balto-Slavic.

Featured image: from the article (copyrighted), “Map showing locations of languages in this study. The phylogenies show the maximum clade credibility tree of the Austronesian languages in our sample. Each phylogeny is colored by the average rate of change, with branches showing more change colored redder, while bluer branches show reductions in rate. Branches with significant shifts are annotated with an asterisk, and the languages showing significantly different rates of change in their grammatical data are located on the map”.

Related:

New Ukraine Eneolithic sample from late Sredni Stog, near homeland of the Corded Ware culture

eneolithic-europe

Just one day after publishing the draft of the Indo-European demic diffusion model, 3rd version, Mathieson et al. (2017) have updated some information in a new version of their article, including a new interesting sample from late Sredni Stog. It gives support to what I predicted, regarding the potential origin of the third Corded Ware horizon.

After my first version, findings in Olalde et al. (2017) and Mathieson et al. (2017) supported some of my predictions. Now after my third, their new data also supports another prediction. Because the model is based on solid linguistic and archaeological models. Here is an excerpt from the Indo-European demic diffusion model, 3rd ed. (pp. 55-56):

At the end of the Trypillian culture, herding/hunting trends intensified, and the agricultural system collapsed, with people moving to the steppe zone, as confirmed by the presence of numerous graves to the south (Rassamakin 1999). At the same time, the Trypillian world absorbed a foreign tradition related to materials of settlement sites of the Dnieper steppes – such as the late Sredni Stog culture –, like cord impressions and burial rites similar to the later Corded Ware culture, marking also the transformation of decors and changes in their interpretation (Palaguta 2007).

The similarity in burial rituals between Yamna and Corded Ware made Gimbutas define a common “Kurgan people”, whose relationship has also been long supported by Kristiansen (Kristiansen 1989; Kristiansen et al. 2017). An equivalence of both burial rites has been, however, rejected (Häusler 1963, 1978, 1983), and it is generally agreed that the Yamna culture did not expand to the north of the Tisza River.

The importance of horse exploitation in Deriivka, in the forest-steppe zone of the north Pontic region along the Dnieper region, during the Middle Eneolithic period (probably ca. 3700-3530 BC), suggests that horses played a significant role in the life of this Sredni Stog community (Anthony and Brown 2003). In its late period (ca. 4000-3500 BC), this culture had adopted corded ware pottery, and stone battle-axes.

However, this [sic] western steppe peoples were mainly hunters (Rassamakin 1999), and the ‘herding skill’ essential for wild horse domestication seems absent (Kuzmina 2003). All this has been confirmed with zooarchaeological evidence and new molecular and stable isotope results, suggesting an absence of horse domestication in territories of the late Sredni Stog culture in the north Pontic steppe (Mileto et al. 2017), before the advent of migrants from the Indo-European-speaking Repin culture.

The new sample described in Mathieson et al. (2017), dated ca. 4200 BC (but within a wide range, 5000-3500 BC) is from a site classified as of late Sredni Stog (although potentially from Post-Mariupol / Kvitjana), a culture of hunters who probably did not breed domesticated horses (even after the period of conquest and dominance of Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chiefs, from Indo-Hittite-speaking early Khvalynsk, who had domesticated horses), and – more importantly – is of R1a-M417 lineage, shows high so-called “Yamna component” in ADMIXTURE, and clusters among Corded Ware samples in PCA approximately a thousand years before this culture’s expansion. Information from the supplementary material:

An Eneolithic cemetery of the Sredny Stog II culture was excavated by D. Telegin in 1955-1957 near the village of Alexandria, Kupyansk district, Kharkov region on the left bank of the river Oskol. A total of 33 individuals were recovered. Based on craniometric analysis (I.Potekhina 1999) it was suggested that the Eneolithic inhabitants of Alexandria were not homogeneous and resulted from admixture of local Neolithic hunter-gatherers and early farmers, possibly Trypillian groups. We report genetic data from one individual: I6561

pca-mathieson_ukraine_eneolithic
PCA, Admixture of Ukraine Eneolithic and other samples from Mathieson et al. (2017)

Another individual from Eneolithic Ukraine (of R1b1 xM269 lineage) clusters quite closely with Neolithic samples from the Baltic, which points to the strong connection between both – southern and northern – regions of east-central Europe before the period of great Chalcolithic expansions, and the potential origin of the spread of R1b (xM269) lineages with the Corded Ware culture.

The so-called ‘Yamna component’ – an infamous name which, as expected, is turning out to be very wrong – has been found quite elevated in this sample, previous and completely unrelated to the Yamna culture and its expansion, and similar to the (later) Corded Ware samples. In fact, we are seeing that Corded Ware samples are actually clustering closely with east-central Europe (excluding the CWC outlier), and not with Yamna and other Indo-European-speaking steppe cultures.

pca-mathieson2-ukraine-eneolithic
‘Yamna component’ (in yellow) in the North-West Pontic Steppe and the Balkans, including Eneolithic Ukraine samples

It will be fun to see the mess that certain researchers have made (and will still make in the near future) of their findings coupled with the concept of “Yamna component”, when trying to describe the “proxy ancestral populations” of European Copper Age and Bronze Age cultures… Difficult times ahead for many, after the collapse of the simplistic Yamna -> Corded Ware -> Bell Beaker genetic model laid out since Haak et al. (2015) and Allentoft et al. (2015).

[EDIT 27 September 2017] Not directly related, but here is today’s interesting discussion on Twitter surrounding the ancestral populations of the “Yamnaya component”, for illustration of the discussions to come when this ancestry is divided into different, more precise, older (Neolithic) steppe components, and these in turn shown to contribute to different European and Asian Chalcolithic and Bronze Age cultures:

Given the variance found in the three samples from Eneolithic Ukraine (comparable to the variance found in east Bell Beaker samples), we may now be getting closer to the precise territory and culture where the Corded Ware culture might have formed, which cannot be much further from the Dnieper-Dniester region before the Yamna expansion to the west ca. 3300 BC, judging from the elevated steppe component.

It seems, because of the proximity of both cultures and the similar dates of their migrations, that the westward expansion of the Yamna culture may have indeed provided an important push (among some strong ‘pull’ forces) for peoples of the expansion of the Corded Ware culture.

eneolithic_Caucasus
Diachronic map of Eneolithic migrations in the Caucasus ca. 4000-3100 BC

It keeps being demonstrated that archaeologists like Anthony, Heyd, Mallory, etc. were right where others tried to interpret admixture based on few samples and their own imagination, without any knowledge (or interest) whatsoever about Archaeology or Linguistics.

So Genetics reinforces the solidest models of Archaeology and Linguistics? Professional academics being mostly right in their careful research, and amateur geneticists playing with software being wrong? Who would have thought… More and more papers help thus shut up naysayers who state (again and again) that new algorithms are here to revolutionise these academic fields.

As Heyd predicted more than 10 years ago, and as many pointed out in terms of linguistic influence (like Mallory or Prescott) the transformation of Yamna settlers into the east Bell Beaker culture, and this culture‘s spread into western and northern Europe, must be noticed in genetic investigation.

The expansion of peoples is known to be associated with the spread of a certain admixture component + the expansion and reduction in variability of a haplogroup (i.e. few male lineages are usually more successful during the expansion): Neolithic farmers from the Middle East expanding with haplogroup G2a; Natufian component (Levant hunter-gatherers or later, Neolithic farmers) and haplogroup E southward into Africa; CHG component expansion with haplogroup J; WHG expansion into east Europe with haplogroup R1b; etc.

There were (at least) two main expansion processes involving Proto-Indo-European: one causing the branching off of the language ancestral to Anatolian, and another during the spread of Late Indo-European dialects. Based on this, and on known archaeological models, I have predicted since the first version of the demic diffusion model:

  • Based on haplogroups found until then in Yamna (R1b-M269), Corded Ware (R1a-M417, especially Z645), and Bell Beaker (R1b-L151):
    • that mainly R1b-L23 (especially L51) lineages and more steppe admixture would be found in east Bell Beaker – confirmed some two months after my publication by Olalde et al. (2017);
    • and that mainly R1a-M417 (especially Z645) subclades will be found in Corded Ware samples.
  • Based on the finding of “Yamna component” in the Corded Ware culture: that this admixture must have come from somewhere else. I pointed out to eastern Europe, including the forest and forest-steppe zone especially in the natural continuum of the Dniester-Dnieper region. Especially after Mathieson et al. (2017), in my second and third versions of the model, I have more specifically suggested a southern origin in the region, nearer to where the CHG ancestry must have come from (the Caucasus and cultures formed in contact with it), according to mainstream archaeological data, i.e. cultures of the North Pontic steppe / steppe-forest. But of course, until more samples are available, more CHG ancestry in other cultures of the Forest Zone cannot be discarded.

For the vast majority of academics, more samples (regionally proportioned) are needed only from early Corded Ware, as we have from Bell Beaker: if they are (as expected) mostly R1a-M417, then everything is clear, and it will finally mean the end for the tiring, now almost ‘traditional’ association R1a – Proto-Indo-European. Some more samples from the potential homeland of the third Corded Ware horizon, most likely Ukraine (Podolia and Volynia regions), nearer to the time of the Corded Ware expansion, would also be great, to locate the actual ancestral population of Corded Ware migrants – recognisable by the main presence of haplogroup R1a-Z645 (formed ca. 3500 BC), and elevated “Yamna component” before the arrival of the Yamna culture…

If, however, early Corded Ware samples of R1b-L23 subclades are found in certain quantity, especially old samples from east-central Europe (excluding Yamna migrants along the Prut), the tricky question of Late Indo-European cultural diffusion will remain: Did Corded Ware peoples adopt a Late Indo-European language from clans of R1b-L23 lineages? That is what Kristiansen and Anthony have been betting for, a cultural diffusion, caused by:

  • A long-lasting contact, according to Kristiansen (1989,…,2017). He defends that Sredni Stog adopted the language – but obviously not the same culture – from the east, but that it is a genetic and cultural mix from Globular Amphora, Trypillia, and steppe cultures. This has been Kristiansen’s model for almost 30 years, and it follows Marija Gimbutas’ outdated theory of the “Kurgan people”.
  • A rapid change according to Anthony (2007). He associates the adoption of Pre-Germanic with the domination of Yamna chiefs over Usatovo people, and the adoption of Balto-Slavic by the people from (Corded Ware) Middle Dnieper group because of the technical superiority of neighbouring Yamna herders.

Linguistics, with the growing support of a North-West Indo-European group, points clearly to a European expansion of a community speaking the ancestral language of Italo-Celtic, Germanic, and probably Balto-Slavic. Archaeology, too, showed migration from Yamna only to south-eastern Europe (correcting Gimbutas’ Kurgan model) and later with east Bell Beaker mainly into central, western, and northern Europe.

Even Kristiansen admits that only after the arrival of Bell Beaker in Scandinavia was a linguistic community (i.e. Germanic) formed – although he places the center of gravity in Úněticean influence, and (yet again) a cultural diffusion event into the Danish Dagger period.

Because of more and more data contrasting with old theories, some have elected to develop weak, indemonstrable links, to keep supporting e.g. Gimbutas’ concept of “Kurgan people” in Archaeology, and a sudden, early expansion of all PIE dialects at once in Linguistics. It seems that, after so much fuss about the (misleading) ‘Yamna component’ concept – and so many far-fetched assumptions by amateur geneticists -, the Corded Ware connection will once again hinge on weak, indemonstrable cultural diffusion theories, be it ‘Kurgan peoples’ (including now, of course, Eneolithic cultures of Ukraine) or any culture from eastern Europe that will reveal some close samples to Corded Ware migrants, in terms of PCA, ADMIXTURE, or haplogroup.

So once we find mainly R1a-Z645 in more Corded Ware samples (and this haplogroup and more “Yamna component” in non-Yamna cultures of Eneolithic Ukraine, and potentially Poland or Belarus) we all may finally expect a peaceful acceptance of reality, at least in Genetics? Nope. No siree. Nein. Not then, not ever.

Why? Because some people want their paternal lineage to have lived in their historical region, and spoken their historical language, since time immemorial. It won’t matter if Archaeology, Linguistics, Genetics, etc. don’t support their claims: if they need to use some aspects of admixture, or haplogroups (or a combination of them) from carefully selected samples instead of looking at the whole picture; if they have to support that Indo-Europeans came from a culture different than Yamna, in- or outside of the steppe or forest-steppe, be it the Balkans, Anatolia, Armenia, or the Moon; if their proto-language should then come directly from Indo-Hittite, or from a Germano-Slavonic, or Indo-Slavonic, or Indo-Germanic group, or whatever invented dialectal branch necessary to fit their model, or if they have to support the ‘constellation analogy’ of Clackson, or thousands of years of development for each branch; etc. They will support whatever is necessary.

And this adaptation, obviously, has no end. It’s stupid, I know. But that’s how we are, how we think. We have seen that these sad trends continue no matter what, for decades, and not only regarding Indo-European. Some common examples include:

  • Indo-Aryan-speaking Indians defending an autochthonous origin of R1a and Indo-European; as well as the ‘opposite’ autochtonous continuity theory of Dravidian-speaking Indians (based on ASI ancestry, haplogroup R2, mtDNA haplogroup M, or whatever is at hand).
  • Western Europeans defending an autochthonous origin of the R1b haplogroup, with a Palaeolithic or Mesolithic origin, including the language, viz. the recent Indo-European from the Atlantic façade theories (in the Celtic from the West series, by Koch and Cunliffe); the now fading Palaeolithic Continuity Theory; and many other forgotten Eurocentric proposals; as well as the more recent informal hints of a central European/Balkan homeland based on the Villabruna cluster and south-eastern Mesolithic finds, which is at risk of being related to a Balkan origin of Proto-Indo-European
    • There is also the ‘opposite’ theory of the autochthonous origin of the Basques, including Proto-Iberians and potentially other peoples like Paleo-Sardinians, based on the previously popular Vasconic-Uralic hypothesis (and an ancient Europe divided into R1b and N1c1 haplogroups), which is still widely believed in certain regions.
  • Finno-Ugric speakers of N1c1 lineage defending an autochtonous origin of the lineage and language in eastern Europe.
  • Nordic speakers supporting the autochthonous nature of Germanic and haplogroup I1 to Scandinavia.
  • Armenian speakers delighted to see a proposal of Indo-European homeland in the Armenian highlands, be it supported by glottalic consonants, CHG ancestrty, R1b (xM269) or J lineages…
  • Greek speakers now willing to support continuity of haplogroup J as a ‘native’ Greek lineage, of people speaking Proto-Greek (and in earlier times PIE), because of two Minoan, and one Mycenaean samples found in Lazaridis et al. (2017).
  • Even Turks linking Yamna with the expansion of Turkic languages. That one is fun to read, almost like a parody for the rest – substituting “Indo-European” for “Turkic”.
  • For years, a lot of people – me included (at least since 2005) – believed, because of modern maps of R1a distribution, that R1a and Corded Ware are the vector of Indo-European languages. For those of us who don’t have any personal or national tie with this haplogroup, this notion has been easy to change with new data. For others, it obviously isn’t, and it won’t be.
R1a_distribution_Eurasia
Modern R1a distribution in Eurasia (Wikipedia, 2008). The typical, simplistic map we relied on in the 2000s to derive wrong conclusions based on Genetics, conclusions which are sadly still alive and kicking…

For all these people, a sample, result, or conclusion from any paper, just dubiously in favour, means everything, but a thousand against mean nothing, or can be reinterpreted to support their fantasies.

The Kossinian autochthonous continuity” crap permeates this relatively new subfield of Human Evolutionary Genetics, as it permeated Indo-European studies (first Linguistics, then Archaeology) in its infancy. It seems to be a generalised human trend, no doubt related to some absurd inferiority complex, mixed with historical romanticism, a certain degree of chauvinism, and (falling in the eternal Godwin’s Law of our field) some outdated, childish notion of ‘supremacy’ linked with the expansion of the own language and people.

Such simplistic and popular models are also lucrative, judging by the boom in demand for DNA analysis, which companies embellish with modern fortune tellers (or fortune tellers themselves sell for a price), promising to ascertain your ‘ancestry proportions’ using automated algorithms, so that you don’t have to get lost in complex genetic data and prehistoric accounts, which can’t help you define your “ethnicity”…

Some just don’t want to realize that the spread of prehistoric languages (like Late Indo-European dialects) was a complex, non-uniform, stepped process, devoid of modern romantic concepts, which in genetic terms necessarily included later founder effects and cultural diffusions, so that no one can trace their haplogroup, lineage, family, region, or country to any single culture, language, or ethnic group. The same, by the way, can be said of peoples and countries in historic times.

As I said before, we shall expect supporters of the Kurgan model (and thus the expansion of R1a-Z645 with Yamna) to wait for just one sample of R1a-M417 in Yamna and/or Bell Beaker (which will eventually be found), and just one sample of R1b-M269 in Corded Ware (which will also eventually be found), to blow the horn of victory in this naïve competition against time, general knowledge, and (essentially) themselves.

A sad consequence of how we are is that, because of the obvious influence of these stupid modern ethnolinguistic agendas, because we are not all rowing in the same direction, genetic results and conclusions are still perceived as far-fetched and labile, and thus most archaeologists and linguists prefer not to include genetic results in their investigation. And those who dare to do so, are badly counselled by those who go with the tide, so that their papers become almost instantly outdated.

Related:

The concept of “outlier” in studies of Human Ancestry, and the Corded Ware outlier from Esperstedt

pca-yamna-corded-ware

While writing the third version of the Indo-European demic diffusion model, I noticed that one Corded Ware sample (labelled I0104) clusters quite closely with steppe samples (i.e. Yamna, Afanasevo, and Potapovka). The other Corded Ware samples cluster, as expected, closely with east-central European samples, which include related cultures such as the Swedish Battle Axe, and later Sintashta, or Potapovka (cultures that are from the steppe proper, but are derived from Corded Ware).

I also noticed after publishing the draft that I had used the wording “Corded Ware outlier” at least once. I certainly had that term in mind when developing the third version, but I did not intend to write it down formally. Nevertheless, I think it is the right name to use.

pca-yamna-corded-ware
PCA of dataset including Minoans and Mycenaeans, and Scythians and Sarmatians. The graphic has been arranged so that ancestries and samples are located in geographically friendly axes similar to north-south (Y), east-west(X). Symbols are used, in a simplified manner, in accordance with symbols for Y-DNA haplogroups used in the maps. Labels have been used for simplification of important components. Areas are drawn surrounding Yamna, Poltavka, Afanasevo, Corded Ware (including samples from Estonia, Battle Axe, and Poltavka outlier), and succeeding Sintashta and Potapovka cultures, as well as Bell Beaker. Corded Ware sample I0104, from Esperstedt, has also been labelled.

Outlier in Statistics, as you can infer from the name, is a sample (more precisely an observation) that lies distant to others. It is a slippery concept in Human Evolutionary Biology, because it has no clear definition, and it is thus dependent on a certain degree of subjective evaluation. It seems to be mainly based on a combination of PCA and ADMIXTURE analyses, but should obviously be dependent on the number of samples available for a certain culture, and the regional distribution of the samples available.

We have thus certain clear cases, like the Poltavka outlier, of R1a-M417 lineage, clustering close to Corded Ware (and Sintashta, and Potapovka) samples, but far from other R1b-L23 samples from Poltavka or Yamna cultures, from neighbouring regions in the steppe.

We have also less clear observations, like Balkan Chalcolithic samples, which may or may not have been part of different cultural groups (say, related to the Suvorovo-Novodanilovka expansion, or not), which may justify their differences in ancestral components in ADMIXTURE, and in their position in PCA.

And we have a Yamna sample from western Ukraine, which – unlike the other two available samples – clusters “to the south” of east Yamna samples. Taking into account the Yamna sample from Bulgaria, clustering closely with south-eastern European samples, could you really call this an outlier? Two outliers out of four western Yamna samples? Well, maybe. If you take east and west Yamna from the steppe as a whole, and exclude the Yamna sample from Bulgaria, of course you can. Whether that classification is useful, or actually hinders a proper interpretation of western Yamna samples, and of the “Yamna component” seen in them, is a different story…

pca-yamna
PCA for European samples of Mathieson et al. (2017)

But what then about the Corded Ware male from Esperstedt, labelled I0104, dated ca. 2430 BC, which clusters among contemporaneous steppe (Poltavka) samples, and has the greatest proportion of ‘Yamna component’ in ADMIXTURE? After all, it is different in both respects from any other Corded Ware individual – including the oldest samples available, from Latvia (ca. 2885 BC) and Tiefbrunn (ca. 2755 BC).

This sample is one of the direct links between the steppe and Corded Ware in late times, and has been the main reason for the confusion a lot of people seem to have about the “Yamna component” in Corded Ware, with some supporting a direct migration from one into the other, and a few even daring to say that “Corded Ware is indistinguishable from Yamna”(!?).

His family members – all males of haplogroup R1a-M417 (like I0104 and most males from the Corded Ware culture) -, few generations later, show a decreased Yamna component, which clearly indicates that this individual’s admixture came directly from the steppe, and most likely from one or multiple female ancestors. That is compatible with the nomadic nature of the Corded Ware culture (and its known exogamy practices), which connected central Europe with the steppes, up to the North Caspian region.

If labelling other samples as outliers may be interesting to improve the conclusions one can obtain from genetic research, labelling this sample is, in my opinion, essential, to avoid certain strong misconceptions about the origin of the Corded Ware culture.

Related:

Indo-European demic diffusion model, 3rd edition

pca-yamna-corded-ware

I have just uploaded the working draft of the third version of the Indo-European demic diffusion model. Unlike the previous two versions, which were published as essays (fully developed papers), this new version adds more information on human admixture, and probably needs important corrections before a definitive edition can be published.

The third version is available right now on ResearchGate and Academia.edu. I will post the PDF at Academia Prisca, as soon as possible:

pca-map-yamna-corded-ware-bell-beaker
Map overlaid by PCA including Yamna, Corded Ware, Bell Beaker, and other samples

Feel free to comment on the paper here, or (preferably) in our forum.

A working version (needing some corrections) divided by sections, illustrated with up-to-date, high resolution maps, can be found (as always) at the official collaborative Wiki website indo-european.info.

Marija Gimbutas and the expansion of the “Kurgan people” based on tumulus-building cultures

An interesting article that I keep stumbling upon, The tumulus in European prehistory: covering the body, housing the soul, by Anthony Harding (2011):

Finally, in Kurgan IV she saw “continuous waves of expansion or raids[that] touched all of northern Europe, the Aegean area, and the east Mediterranean areas possibly as far south as Egypt”. This was the period of the Catacomb Graves, but also the Early Bronze Age rock-cut tombs of the Mediterranean, Vučedol, Bell Beakers in Hungary, the Single Grave culture of the Nordic region. The Kurgan Culture reached Ireland, she remarked in a paper of 1978 “as early as 3500 B.C.” – by which she presumably referred to megalithic mounds covering passage tombs.

(…)

According to Gimbutas, the “Kurgan people” are evidenced by single graves in deep shafts, often in wooden chests (coffins) or stone cists marked by low earth or stone barrows; the dead lay on their backs with legs contracted; they were buried with flint points or arrowheads, figurines depicting horses’ heads, boars tusk ornaments and animal tooth pendants. Human sacrifice was allegedly performed during the funeral ceremonies,and sometimes ritual graves of cattle and other animals were added. This is said to contrast with what Gimbutas called the culture of Old Europe (i.e. the earlier Neolithic of the Balkans), who “betray a concern for the deification of the dead and the construction of monumental works of architecture visible in mortuary houses,grave markings, tumuli, stone rings or stone stelae, and in the large quantity of weapons found in the graves”.

(…)

single-graves-kurgan
The varying burial traditions of the Early Bronze Age in Central and Eastern Europe (Häusler 1977, fig. 1). Circles: tumuli with the “mound edge principle”. Semicircles: tumuli. Stippling: cremation; other symbols represent inhumation graves, divided according to orientation and sex

Can we really associate the practice of mound-building with a specific people, and assume that the spread of the practice indicates the spread of the people? That is one of the “big questions” of European archaeology, and one which a number of papers in the volume address. My own position is that the practice of tumulus building seems so widespread in time and space that it seems hard to associate it with one particular ethnic group – though I can understand how, in the melting pot that was Early Europe, people could believe this to be the case. There are, however, major arguments against the idea, on archaeological grounds alone – which Häusler’s map indicates very clearly. Burial mode and grave form in Copper and Bronze Age Europe was far too variable for any such simplistic correlation. In any case, what are we to make of the appearance of tumuli in such far-flung places as Japan or North America, where tumuli are very common? It was always unlikely that the megalithic tombs of western Europe were to be associated with movements from the steppe 1000 or 2000 years earlier, and nothing that has happened since Gimbutas was writing has changed that situation

Research has corrected Gimbutas’ opinion on the time of spread of Indo-Europeans, on the role of the horse (see e.g. Anthony 2007) in their expansion, and the unrelatedness of the two main central European Chalcolithic archaeological packages: the Corded Ware package that expanded from the Balkans into north-eastern Europe, and the Yamna package (together with the proto-Beaker package) that evolved into the East Bell Beaker culture.

yamna-migration
Extent of migration of the “Yamna package“, from Heyd 2007

However, the shadow of the “Kurgan people” remains in the outdated body of innumerable writings. It was revived with the first attempts at disentangling Europe’s genetic past (based on the role of R1a in expanding Proto-Indo-European).

Particularly strong in that sense is the model set forth by Kristiansen, who was nevertheless aware since his first proposal of the differences between the ‘Kurgan people’ of the steppe and those of the Corded Ware culture, selecting thus an alternative framework of long-lasting human and economic interactions between the “Kurgan people”, the Globular Amphora and Baden cultures with an origin of the culture in the natural region formed between the Upper Dnieper and Vistula rivers.

This idea is continued today, and has been recently linked with the Agricultural Substrate Hypothesis. Originally proposed by Kroonen and linked to the spread of Middle Eastern “R1b1b2” with agriculture, it is now (in Kristiansen et al. 2017 and more recently in Iversen and Kroonen 2017) linked with the expansion of the Corded Ware culture, thus proposing that Pre-Germanic is a branch separated some 6,000 years ago from other branches…

kurgans-corded-ware
Kristiansen’s (1989) schematic presentation of basic principles of burial positions in the Late Neolithic / EBA cultures in northern Eurasia, following to some extent Häusler (1983)

The linguistic proposal is obviously compatible with mainstream archaeological models – which suggest the introduction of Pre-Germanic in Scandinavia with Bell Beaker peoples -, but since the linguistic proposal alone would probably not make such a fuss without the accompanying genetics, I guess this is the right way to publicise it. I doubt linguists really care about genetics, and I really doubt amateur geneticists will read the linguistic proposal, but who cares.

Kristiansen’s traditional model is obviously in contrast with contemporaneous anthropological writings by Anthony, Heyd, or (Gimbutas’ pupil) Mallory, but is nevertheless becoming a resilient tradition in the interpretation of results in studies of human ancestry in Europe.

I doubt that Gimbutas, who was not very fond of tradition, would be proud of this kind of legacy, though…

Featured image: “European dialect” expansion of Proto-Indo-European according to The Indo-Europeans: Archeological Problems, Gimbutas (1963). Observe the similarities of the western European expansion to the recently proposed expansion of R1b lineages with western Yamna and Bell Beaker.

Related:

Something is very wrong with models based on the so-called ‘steppe admixture’ – and archaeologists are catching up

steppe-admixture

Russian archaeologist Leo Klejn has published an article Discussion: Are the Origins of Indo-European Languages Explained by the Migration of the Yamnaya Culture to the West?, which includes the criticism received from Wolfgang Haak, Iosif Lazaridis, Nick Patterson, and David Reich (mainly on the genetic aspect), and from Kristian Kristiansen, Karl-Göran Sjögren, Morten Allentoft, Martin Sikora, and Eske Willerslev (mainly on the archaeological aspect).

I will not post details of Klejn’s model of North-South Proto-Indo-European expansion – which is explained in the article, and relies on the north-south cline of ‘steppe admixture’ in the modern European population -, since it is based on marginal anthropological methods and theories, including glottochronological dates, and archaeological theories from the Russian school (mainly Zalyzniak), which are obviously not mainstream in the field of Indo-European Studies, and (paradoxically) on the modern distribution of ‘steppe admixture’…

The most interesting aspects of the article are the reactions to the criticism, some of which can be used from the point of view of the Indo-European demic diffusion model, too. It is sad, however, that they didn’t choose to answer earlier to Heyd’s criticism (or to Heyd’s model, which is essentially also that of Mallory and Anthony), instead of just waiting for proponents of the least interesting models to react…

The answer by Haak et al.:

Klejn mischaracterizes our paper as claiming that practitioners of the Corded Ware culture spoke a language ancestral to all European Indo-European languages, including Greek and Celtic. This is incorrect: we never claim that the ancestor of Greek is the language spoken by people of the Corded Ware culture. In fact, we explicitly state that the expansion of steppe ancestry might account for only a subset of Indo-European languages in Europe. Klejn asserts that ‘a source in the north’ is a better candidate for the new ancestry manifested in the Corded Ware than the Yamnaya. While it is indeed the case that the present-day people with the greatest affinity to the Corded Ware are distributed in north-eastern Europe, a major part of the new ancestry of the Corded Ware derives from a population most closely related to Armenians (Haak et al., 2015) and hunter-gatherers from the Caucasus (Jones et al., 2015). This ancestry has not been detected in any European huntergatherers analysed to date (Lazaridis et al., 2014; Skoglund et al., 2014; Haak et al., 2015; Fu et al., 2016), but made up some fifty per cent of the ancestry of the Yamnaya. The fact that the Corded Ware traced some of its ancestry to the southern Caucasus makes a source in the north less parsimonious.

In our study, we did not speculate about the date of Proto-Indo-European and the locations of its speakers, as these questions are unresolved by our data, although we do think the genetic data impose constraints on what occurred. We are enthusiastic about the potential of genetics to contribute to a resolution of this longstanding issue, but this is likely to require DNA from multiple, as yet unsampled, ancient populations.

Klejn response to that:

Allegedly, I had accused the authors of tracing all Indo-European languages back to Yamnaya, whereas they did not trace all of them but only a portion! Well, I shall not reproach the authors for their ambiguous language: it remains the case that (beginning with the title of the first article) their qualifications are lost and their readers have understood them as presenting the solution to the whole question of the origins of Indo-European languages.

(…) they had in view not the Proto-Indo-European before the separation of the Hittites, but the language that was left after the separation. Yet, this was still the language ancestral to all the remaining Indo-European languages, and the followers of Sturtevan and Kluckhorst call only this language Proto-Indo-European (while they call the initial one Indo-Hittite). The majority of linguists (specialists in Indo-European languages) is now inclined to this view. True, the breakup of this younger language is several hundred years more recent (nearly a thousand years later according to some glottochronologies) than the separation of Anatolian languages, but it is still around a thousand years earlier than the birth of cultures derived from Yamnaya.
More than that, I analysed in my criticism both possibilities — the case for all Indo-European languages spreading from Yamnaya and the case for only some of them spreading from Yamnaya. In the latter case, it is argued that only the languages of the steppes, the Aryan (Indo- Iranian) are descended from Yamnaya, not the languages of northern Europe. Together with many scholars, I am in agreement with the last possibility. But, then, what sense can the proposed migration of the Yamnaya culture to the Baltic region have? It would bring the Indo-Iranian proto-language to that region! Yet, there are no traces of this language on the coasts of the Baltic!

My main concern is that, to my mind, one should not directly apply conclusions from genetics to events in the development of language because there is no direct and inevitable dependence between events in the life of languages, culture, and physical structure (both anthropological and genetic). They can coincide, but often they all follow divergent paths. In each case the supposed coincidence should be proved separately.

The authors’ third objection concerns the increase of the genetic similarity of European population with that of the Yamnaya culture. This increases in the north of Europe and is weak in the south, in the places adjacent to the Yamnaya area, i.e. in Hungary. This gradient is clearly expressed in the modern population, but was present already in the Bronze Age, and hence cannot be explained by shifts that occurred in the Early Iron Age and in medieval times. However, the supposed migration of the Yamnaya culture to the west and north should imply a gradient in just the opposite direction!

Regarding the arguments of Kristiansen and colleagues:

[They argue that] in two early burials of the Corded Ware culture (one in Germany, the other in Poland) some single attributes of Yamnaya origin have been found.

(…) if this is the full extent of Yamnaya infiltration into central Europe—two burials (one for each country) from several thousands (and from several hundreds of early burials)—then it hardly amounts to large-scale migration.

Quite recently we have witnessed the success of a group of geneticists from Stanford University and elsewhere (Poznik et al., 2016). They succeeded in revealing varieties of Y-chromosome connected with demographic expansions in the Bronze Age. Such expansion can give rise to migration. Among the variants connected with this expansion is R1b, and this haplogroup is typical for the Yamnaya culture. But what bad luck! This haplogroup connected with expansion is indicated by the clade L11, while the Yamnaya burials are associated with a different clade, Z2103, that is not marked by expansion. It is now time to think about how else the remarkable results reached by both teams of experienced and bright geneticists may be interpreted.

Regarding the work of Heyd,

(…) with regard to the barrow burials of the third millennium BC in the basin of the Danube, although they have been assigned to the Yamnaya culture, I would consider them as also belonging to
another, separate culture, perhaps a mixed culture: its burial custom is typical of the Yamnaya, but its pottery is absolutely not Yamnaya, but local Balkan with imports of distinctive corded beakers (Schnurbecher). I would not be surprised if
Y-chromosome haplogroups of this population were somewhat similar to those of the Yamnaya, while mitochondrial groups were indigenous. As yet, geneticists deal with great blocks of populations and prefer to match them to very large and generalized cultural blocks, while archaeology now analyses more concrete and smaller cultures, each of which had its own fate.

Iosif Lazaridis shares more thoughts on the discussion in his Twitter account:

As we mentioned in Haak, Lazaridis et al. (2015), the Yamnaya are the best proximate source for the new ancestry that first appears with the Corded Ware in central Europe, as it has the right mix of both ANE (related to Native Americans, MA1, and EHG), but also Armenian/Caucasus/Iran-like southern component of ancestry. The Yamnaya is a westward expansive culture that bears exactly the two new ancestral components (EHG + Caucasus/Iran/Armenian-like).
As for the Y-chromosome, it was already noted in Haak, Lazaridis et al. (2015) that the Yamnaya from Samara had Y-chromosomes which belonged to R-M269 but did not belong to the clade common in Western Europe (p. 46 of supplement). Also, not a single R1a in Yamnaya unlike Corded Ware (R1a-dominated). But Yamnaya samples = elite burials from eastern part of the Yamnaya range. Both R1a/R1b found in Eneolithic Samara and EHG, so in conclusion Yamnaya expansion still the best proximate source for the post-3,000 BCE population change in central Europe. And since 2015 steppe expansion detected elsewhere (Cassidy et al. 16, Martiniano et al. 17, Mittnik et al. 17, Mathieson et al. 17, Lazaridis et al. 2016 (South Asia) and …?…

I love the smell of new wording in the morning… viz. Yamnaya best proximate source for Corded Ware, Corded Ware might account for only a subset of Indo-European languages, Corded Ware representing Aryan languages (probably Klejn misinterprets what the authors mean, i.e. some kind of Indo-Slavonic or Germano-Balto-Slavic group)…

We shall expect more and more ambiguous rewording and more adjustments of previous conclusions as new papers and new criticisms appear.

Related:

Featured image from the article: Distribution of the ‘Yamnaya’ genetic component in the populations of Europe (data taken from Haak et al., 2015). The intensity of the colour corresponds to the contribution of this component in various modern populations