The genetic and cultural barrier of the Pontic-Caspian steppe – forest-steppe ecotone


We know that the Caucasus Mountains formed a persistent prehistoric barrier to cultural and population movements. Nevertheless, an even more persistent frontier to population movements in Europe, especially since the Neolithic, is the Pontic-Caspian steppe – forest-steppe ecotone.

Like the Caucasus, this barrier could certainly be crossed, and peoples and cultures could permeate in both directions, but there have been no massive migrations through it. The main connection between both regions (steppe vs. forest-steppe/forest zone) was probably through its eastern part, through the Samara region in the Middle Volga.

The chances of population expansions crossing this natural barrier anywhere else seem quite limited, with a much less porous crossing region in the west, through the Dnieper-Dniester corridor.

A Persistent ecological and cultural frontier

It is very difficult to think about any culture that transgressed this persistent ecological and cultural frontier: many prehistoric and historical steppe pastoralists did appear eventually in the neighbouring forest-steppe areas during their expansions (e.g. Yamna, Scythians, or Turks), as did forest groups who permeated to the south (e.g. Comb Ware, GAC, or Abashevo), but their respective hold in foreign biomes was mostly temporary, because their cultures had to adapt to the new ecological environment. Most if not all groups originally from a different ecological niche eventually disappeared, subjected to renewed demographic pressure from neighbouring steppe or forest populations…

The Samara region in the Middle Volga may be pointed out as the true prehistoric link between forests and steppes (see David Anthony’s remarks), something reflected in its nature as a prehistoric sink in genetics. This strong forest – forest-steppe – steppe connection was seen in the Eurasian technocomplex, during the expansion of hunter-gatherer pottery, in the expansion of Abashevo peoples to the steppes (in one of the most striking cases of population admixture in the area), with Scythians (visible in the intense contacts with Ananyino), and with Turks (Volga Turks).

Simplified map of the distribution of steppes and forest-steppes (Pontic and Pannonian) and xeric grasslands in Eastern Central Europe (with adjoining East European ranges) with their regionalisation as used in the review (Northern—Pannonic—Pontic). Modified from Kajtoch et al. (2016).

Before the emergence of pastoralism, the cultural contacts of the Pontic region (i.e. forest-steppes) with the Baltic were intense. In fact, the connection of the north Pontic area with the Baltic through the Dnieper-Dniester corridor and the Podolian-Volhynian region is essential to understand the spread of peoples of post-Maglemosian and post-Swiderian cultures (to the south), hunter-gatherer pottery (to the north), TRB (to the south), Late Trypillian groups (north), GAC (south), or Comb Ware (south) (see here for Eneolithic movements), and finally steppe ancestry and R1a-Z645 with Corded Ware (north). After the complex interaction of TRB, Trypillia, GAC, and CWC during the expansion of late Repin, this traditional long-range connection is lost and only emerges sporadically, such as with the expansion of East Germanic tribes.

A barrier to steppe migrations into northern Europe

One may think that this barrier was more permeable, then, in the past. However, the frontier is between steppe and forest-steppe ecological niches, and this barrier evolved during prehistory due to climate changes. The problem is, before the drought that began ca. 4000 BC and increased until the Yamna expansion, the steppe territory in the north Pontic region was much smaller, merely a strip of coastal land, compared to its greater size ca. 3300 BC and later.

This – apart from the cultural and technological changes associated with nomadic pastoralism – justifies the traditional connection of the north Pontic forest-steppes to the north, broken precisely after the expansion of Khvalynsk, as the north Pontic area became gradually a steppe region. The strips of north Pontic and Azov steppes and Crimea seem to have had stronger connections to the Northern Caucasus and Northern Caspian steppes than with the neighbouring forest-steppe areas during the Upper Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic.

NOTE. We still don’t know the genetic nature of Mikhailovka or Ezero, steppe-related groups possibly derived from Novodanilovka and Suvorovo close to the Black Sea (which possibly include groups from the Pannonian plains), and how they compare to neighbouring typically forest-steppe cultures of the so-called late Sredni Stog groups, like Dereivka or partly Kvityana.

Typical migration routes through European steppes and forest-steppes. Red line represents the persistent cultural and genetic barrier, with the latest evolution in steppe region represented by the shift from dashed line to the north. Arrows show the most common population movements. Modified from Kajtoch et al. (2016).

Despite the Pontic-Caspian steppes and forest-steppes neighbouring each other for ca. 2,000 km, peoples from forested and steppe areas had an obvious advantage in their own regions, most likely due to the specialization of their subsistence economy. While this is visible already in Palaeolithic and Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, the arrival of the Neolithic package in the Pontic-Caspian region incremented the difference between groups, by spreading specialized animal domestication. The appearance of nomadic pastoralism adapted to the steppe, eventually including the use of horses and carts, made the cultural barrier based on the economic know-how even stronger.

Even though groups could still adapt and permeate a different territory (from steppe to forest-steppe/forest and vice-versa), this required an important cultural change, to the extent that it is eventually complicated to distinguish these groups from neighbouring ones (like north-west Pontic Mesolithic or Neolithic groups and their interaction with the steppes, Trypillia-Usatovo, Scythians-Thracians, etc.). In fact, this steppe – forest-steppe barrier is also seen to the east of the Urals, with the distinct expansion of Andronovo and Seima-Turbino/Andronovo-like horizons, which seem to represent completely different ethnolinguistic groups.

As a result of this cultural and genetic barrier, like that formed by the Northern Caucasus:

1) No steppe pastoralist culture (which after the emergence of Khvalynsk means almost invariably horse-riding, chariot-using nomadic herders who could easily pasture their cows in the huge grasslands without direct access to water) has ever been successful in spreading to the north or north-west into northern Europe, until the Mongols. No forest culture has ever been successful in expanding to the steppes, either (except for the infiltration of Abashevo into Sintashta-Potapovka).

2) Corded Ware was not an exception: like hunter-gatherer pottery before it (and like previous population movements of TRB, late Trypillia, GAC, Comb Ware or Lublin-Volhynia settlers) their movements between the north Pontic area and central Europe happened through forest-steppe ecological niches due to their adaptation to them. There is no reason to support a direct connection of CWC with true steppe cultures.

3) The so-called “Steppe ancestry” permeated the steppe – forest-steppe ecotone for hundreds of years during the 5th and early 4th millennium BC, due to the complex interaction of different groups, and probably to the aridization trend that expanded steppe (and probably forest-steppe) to the north. Language, culture, and paternal lineages did not cross that frontier, though.

EDIT (4 FEB 2019): Wang et al. is out in Nature Communications. They deleted the Yamna Hungary samples and related analyses, but it’s interesting to see where exactly they think the trajectory of admixture of Yamna with European MN cultures fits best. This path could also be inferred long ago from the steppe connections shown by the Yamna Hungary -> Bell Beaker evolution and by early Balkan samples:

Prehistoric individuals projected onto a PCA of 84 modern-day West Eurasian populations (open symbols). Dashed arrows indicate trajectories of admixture: EHG—CHG (petrol), Yamnaya—Central European MN (pink), Steppe—Caucasus (green), and Iran Neolithic—Anatolian Neolithic (brown). Modified from the original, a red circle has been added to the Yamna-Central European MN admixture.


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


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

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

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

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

1. Samara to Early Khvalynsk

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

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


This is what Steppe_Maykop looks like, different from Steppe_Eneolithic:


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

2. Early Khvalynsk expansion

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

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


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

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

3. Proto-Corded Ware expansion

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

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

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

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


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


4. Repin / Early Yamna expansion

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


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


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


5. Corded Ware

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


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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


Long-term matrilineal continuity in a nonisolated region of Tuscany


New paper (behind paywall) The female ancestor’s tale: Long‐term matrilineal continuity in a nonisolated region of Tuscany, by Leonardi et al. Am J Phys Anthr (2018).

EDIT (10 SEP 2018): The main author has shared an open access link to read the PDF.

Interesting excerpts:

Here we analyze North-western Tuscany, a region that was a corridor of exchanges between Central Italy and the Western Mediterranean coast.

We newly obtained mitochondrial HVRI sequences from 28 individuals, and after gathering published data, we collected genetic information for 119 individuals from the region. Those span five periods during the last 5,000 years: Prehistory, Etruscan age, Roman age, Renaissance, and Present-day. We used serial coalescent simulations in an approximate Bayesian computation framework to test for continuity between the mentioned groups.

In all cases, a simple model of a long-term genealogical continuity proved to fit the data better, and sometimes much better, than the alternative hypothesis of discontinuity.

The low number of samples analyzed requires some caution in the interpretation. Because we did not test for gene flow, it is at this stage impossible to reject it, but our results suggest at least significant levels of genealogical continuity. Moreover, as it has not been possible to obtain more precise information on the age of the Eneolithic samples, they were grouped together considering the average archaeological period of interest, which may cause a bias in the analyses. (…)

Geographic location of the samples considered in this work

(…) clearly, our samples show high levels of continuity when considering the whole Tuscan region as a genetic reservoir during the Iron Age.

The posterior distributions of the parameters confirm a high degree of genetic isolation in the sampled population, with very small values for the female effective population sizes across time. Such values, in particular the Neolithic ones, are in accord with the estimates obtained in similar studies, both in Tuscany (Ghirotto et al., 2013) and in France (Rivollat et al., 2017).


Taken at their face value, our results do not show any major shift in the composition of the maternal ancestry of the population, across 50 centuries. This does not mean that no demographic process of relevance has affected the population, and indeed the higher diversity accumulating in time is the likely consequence of immigrating people, enriching the mitochondrial gene pool.

(…) the population of the current Lucca province appears to have retained very ancient mitochondrial features, despite occupying a geographical corridor between the Ligurian and the Tyrrhenian coast, and despite not showing the persistence of unique cultural traits through the centuries.


Another possibility is that that the different populations passing through the area (Etruscans, Romans, and Lombards) had a consistent social and/or sex bias. An example of similar patterns has been observed several times. Between the Late Neolithic and the Early Bronze Age, female exogamy in patrilocal society has been observed in Southern Germany (Knipper et al., 2017); during the Bronze Age the migrations toward Europe from the steppes appears to have consisted prevalently of males (Goldberg, Günther, Rosenberg, & Jakobsson, 2017); and in more recent periods in the Canary Islands, the female ancestry maintains a significant amount of autochthonous lineages, while the male ancestry was strongly influenced by the European colonization (Fregel et al., 2009, b).

It is well known that military invasions may not have a significant genetic impact upon the invaded population (Schiffels et al., 2016; Sokal, Oden, Walker, Di Giovanni, & Thomson, 1996;Weale,Weiss, Jager, Bradman, & Thomas, 2002), especially at the mitochondrial level, because of the limited size of a sustainable army, and of the fact that armies are generally composed mostly or only of males. Even if a substantial share of invaders decided to remain and settle the region, this form of gene flow would affect mostly or only the paternal lineages, rather than the maternal ones. We can also hypothesize the immigration of a number of people (e.g., Romans, Lombards) that may have acted as ruler of the region, remaining socially (and so genetically) separated by the local population, and leaving few (if any) traces in the gene pools of the local population.

Supporting Information, Table S1 New ancient samples genotyped

We expect to see that certain migrations since the Iron Age – like the Celtic and Roman ones – were somehow different from previous ones, where, at least since the Neolithic, male-dominated expansions were the rule.

If, however, male-biased expansions are also seen during the Iron Age – probably driven by particular subclades then – , this would certainly justify the continuity of admixture in certain regions in spite of these population expansions, and thus the importance of Y-DNA to track more recent language changes.

One of the most interesting details of the upcoming paper of Italic peoples will be the Y-DNA (and admixture) of Etruscans compared to other neighbouring peoples, given the known conflicting theories regarding their recent vs. older origin in the East before the historical record.


On the origin and spread of haplogroup R1a-Z645 from eastern Europe


In my recent post about the origin and expansion of haplogroup R1b-L51, Chetan made an interesting comment on the origin and expansion of R1a-Z645. Since this haplogroup is also relevant for European history and dialectal North-West Indo-European and Indo-Iranian expansion, I feel compelled to do a similar post, although the picture right now is more blurry than that of R1b-L51.

I find it interesting that many geneticists would question the simplistic approach to the Out of Africa model as it is often enunciated, but they would at the same time consider the current simplistic model of Yamna expansion essentially right; a model – if anyone is lost here – based on proportions of the so-called Yamnaya™ ancestral component, as found in a small number of samples, from four or five Eneolithic–Chalcolithic cultures spanning more than a thousand years.

The “75% Yamnaya ancestry of Corded Ware”, which has been given so much publicity since 2015, made geneticists propose a “Yamna → Corded Ware → Únětice / Bell Beaker” migration model, in order of decreasing Yamnaya proportions. Y-DNA and solid archaeological models suggested that this model was wrong, and recent findings have proven it was. In fact, the CWC sample closest to Yamna was a late outlier of Esperstedt in Central Europe, whose ancestry is most likely directly related to Yamna settlers from Hungary.

These wrong interpretations have been now substituted by data from two new early samples from the Baltic, which cluster closely to Yamna, and which – based on the Y-DNA and PCA cluster formed by all Corded Ware samples – are likely the product of female exogamy with Yamna peoples from the neighbouring North Pontic region (as we are seeing, e.g. in the recent Nikitin et al. 2018).

NOTE. There is also another paper from Nikitin et al. (2017), with more ancient mtDNA, “Subdivisions of haplogroups U and C encompass mitochondrial DNA lineages of Eneolithic-Early Bronze Age Kurgan populations of western North Pontic steppe”. Link to paper (behind paywall). Most interesting data is summarized in the following table:


Even after the publication of Olalde et al. (2018) and Wang et al. (2018) – where expanding Yamna settlers and Bell Beakers are clearly seen highly admixed within a few generations, and are found spread across a wide Eurasian cline (sharing one common invariable trait, the paternally inherited haplogroup, as supported by David Reich) – fine-scale studies of population structure and social dynamics is still not a thing for many, even though it receives more and more advocates among geneticists (e.g. Lazaridis, or Veeramah).

NOTE. I have tried to explain, more than once, that the nature and origin of the so-called “Yamnaya ancestry” (then “steppe ancestry”, and now subdivided further as Steppe_EMBA and Steppe_MLBA) is not known with precision before Yamna samples of ca. 3000 BC, and especially that it is not necessarily a marker of Indo-European speakers. Why some people are adamant that steppe ancestry and thus R1a must be Indo-European is mostly related to a combination of grandaddy’s haplogroup, the own modern ethnolinguistic attribution, and an aversion to sharing grandpa with other peoples and cultures.

In the meantime, we are seeing the “Yamnaya proportion” question often reversed: “how do we make Corded Ware stem from Yamna, now that we believed it?”. This is a funny circular reasoning, akin to the one used by proponents of the Franco-Cantabrian origin of R1b, when they look now at EEF proportions in Iberian R1b-L23 samples. It seems too comic to be true.

R1a and steppe ancestry

The most likely origin of haplogroup R1a-Z645 is to be found in eastern Europe. Samples published in the last year support this region as a sort of cradle of R1a expansions:

  • I1819, Y-DNA R1a1-M459, mtDNA U5b2, Ukraine Mesolithic ca. 8825-8561 calBCE, from Vasilievka.
  • I5876, Y-DNA R1a, mtDNA U5a2a, Ukraine Mesolithic 7040-6703 calBCE, from Dereivka.
  • I0061, hg R1a1-M459 (xR1a1a-M17), mtDNA C1, ca. 6773-6000 calBCE (with variable dates), from Yuzhnyy Oleni Ostrov in Karelia.
  • Samples LOK_1980.006 and LOK_1981.024.01, of hg MR1a1a-M17, mtDNA F, Baikalic cultures, dated ca. 5500-5000 BC.
  • Sample I0433, hg R1a1-M459(xM198), mtDNA U5a1i, from Samara Eneolithic, ca. 5200-4000 BCE
  • Samples A3, A8, A9, of hg R1a1-M459, mtDNA H, from sub-Neolithic cultures (Comb Ware and Zhizhitskaya) at Serteyea, although dates (ca. 5th-3rd millennium BC) need possibly a revision (from Chekunova 2014).

NOTE. The fact that Europe is better sampled than North Asia, coupled with the finding of R1a-M17 in Baikalic cultures, poses some problems as to the precise origin of this haplogroup and its subclades. While the first (Palaeolithic or Mesolithic) expansion was almost certainly from Northern Eurasia to the west – due to the Mal’ta sample – , it is still unknown if the different subclades of R1a in Europe are the result of local developments, or rather different east—west migrations through North Eurasia.

Y-Full average estimates pointed to R1a-M417 formation ca. 6500 BC, TMRCA ca. 3500 BC, and R1a-Z645 formation ca. 3300 BC, TMRCA ca. 2900 BC, so the most likely explanation was that R1a-Z645 and its subclades – similar to R1b-L23 subclades, but slightly later) expanded quickly with the expansion of Corded Ware groups.

The presence of steppe ancestry in Ukraine Eneolithic sample I6561, of haplogroup R1a-M417, from Alexandria, dated ca. 4045-3974 calBCE, pointed to the forest steppe area and late Sredni Stog as the most likely territory from where the haplogroup related to the Corded Ware culture expanded.

However, the more recent Y-SNP call showing R1a-Z93 (L657) subclade rendered Y-Full’s (at least formation) estimates too young, so we have to rethink the actual origin of both subclades, R1a-Z93 (formation ca. 2900 BC, TMRCA ca 2700 BC), and R1a-Z283 (formation ca. 2900 BC, TMRCA ca. 2800 BC).

Contrary to what we thought before this, then, it is possible that the expansion of Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka chieftains through the steppes, around the mid-5th millennium BC, had something to do with the expansion of R1a-Z645 to the north, in the forest steppe.

We could think that the finding of Z93 in Alexandria after the expansion of Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka chiefs would make it more likely that R1a-Z645 will be found in the North Pontic area. However, given that Lower Mikhailovka and Kvitjana seem to follow a steppe-related cultural tradition, different to forest steppe cultures (like Dereivka and Alexandria), and that forest steppe cultures show connections to neighbouring northern and western forest regions, the rest of the expanding R1a-Z645 community may not be related directly to the steppe at all.

Adding a hypothetical split and expansion of Z645 subclades to the mid-/late-5th millennium could place the expansion of this haplogroup to the north and west, pushed by expanding Middle PIE-speaking steppe peoples from the east:

Schematic depiction of the spread of horse-head scepters in the Middle Eneolithic, representing expanding Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka chieftains. See a full version with notes here.

The Złota culture

I have already written about the Podolia-Volhynia region: about the North Pontic steppe cultures in contact with this area, and about the chaotic period of migrations when Corded Ware seem to have first emerged there among multi-directional and multi-ethnic migrants.

This is what Włodarczak (2017) says about the emergence of Corded Ware with ‘steppe features’ after the previous expansion of such features in Central Europe with Globular Amphorae peoples. He refers here to the Złota culture (appearing ca. 2900-2800 BC) in Lesser Poland, believed to be the (or a) transitional stage between GAC and Corded Ware, before the emergence of the full-fledged “Corded Ware package”.

So far, to the north of the Carpathian Mountains, including Polish lands, no graves indicating their relationship with communities of the steppe zone have been found. On the contrary, the funeral rites always display a local, central European nature. However, individual elements typical of steppe communities do appear, such as the “frog-like” arrangement of the body (Fig. 20), or items associated with Pit Grave milieux (cf. Klochko, Kośko 2009; Włodarczak 2014). A spectacular example of the latter is the pointed-base vessel of Pit Grave culture found at the cemetery in Święte, site 11 near Jarosław (Kośko et al. 2012). These finds constitute a confirmation of the importance of the relationships between communities of Pit Grave culture and Corded Ware culture. They are chronologically diverse, although most of them are dated to 2600-2400 BC – that is, to the “classic” period of Corded Ware culture.

Map of territorial ranges of Funnel Beaker Culture (and its settlement concentrations in Lesser Poland), local Trypillian groups and early Corded Ware Culture settlements (◼) at the turn of the 4th/3rd millennia BC.

However, when discussing the relationships with the steppe communities, Polish lands deserve particular attention since part of the groups inhabiting it belonged to the eastern province of Corded Ware culture (cf. Häusler 2014), which neighboured Pit Grave culture both from the east and south. In addition, there was a tradition of varied relationships with the north Pontic zone, which began to intensify from the second half of the 4th millennium BC (Kośko, Szmyt, 2009; Kośko, Klochko, 2009). These connections are especially readable in Małopolska and Kujawy (Kośko 2014; Włodarczak 2014). The emergence of the community of Globular Amphora culture in the north Pontic zone at the end of the 4th and the beginnings of the 3rd millennium BC (Szmyt 1999) became a harbinger of a cultural closening between the worlds of central Europe and the steppe.

The second important factor taking place at that time was the expansion of the people of Pit Grave culture in a westerly direction, along the Danube thoroughfare. As a result of this, also to the south of the Carpathian Mountains, e.g., along the upper Tisza River, a new “kurgan” cultural system was formed. As one outcome, the areas of central Europe, above all Małopolska, found themselves in the vicinity of areas inhabited by communities characterized by new principles of social organization and a new funeral rite. Around 2800 BC these changes became evident in different regions of Poland, with the most numerous examples being documented in south-eastern Poland and Kujawy. The nature of the funeral rite and the features of the material culture perceptible at that time do not have straight forward analogies in the world of north Pontic communities. In this respect, the “A-horizon” is a phenomenon of local, central European origin. The events preceding the emergence of the said horizon (that is, the expansion of the people of Pit Grave culture into the area north of the arc of the Carpathians) are nowadays completely unidentifiable and remain merely an interesting theoretical matter (cf. e.g., Kośko 2000). Therefore, analysis of the archaeological sources cannot confirm the first archaeogenetic analysis suggesting a bond between the communities of the Pit Grave culture and Corded Ware culture (e.g., Haak et al. 2015).

Artefacts of the “A-horizon”, i.e., shaft-hole axes, amphorae (Fig. 21), beakers, and pots with a plastic wavy strip (Fig. 7) are found in different funerary and settlement contexts, sometimes jointly with finds having characteristics of various cultures (e.g., in graves of Złota culture, or at settlements of Rzucewo culture). Hence, they primarily represent a chronological phase (c. 2800-2600 BC), one obviously related to the expansion of a new ideology.

Eastern CWC expansion

Before continuing tracing the Corded Ware culture’s main features, it is worth it to trace first their movement forward in time, as Corded Ware settlers, from Poland to the east.

Circum-Baltic CWC

According to Klochko and Kośko (1998):

The colonizing Neolithic waves are continued by the Circum-Baltic Corded Ware culture, closely related to the traditions of the Single Grave culture and traditions of the Northern European Lowlands. After ca. 2900 BC, certain cultural systems with ‘corded’ traits –genetically related to the catchment area of the south-western Baltic – appear in the drainages of the Nemen, Dvina, Upper Dnieper, and even the Volga. These communities are considered the vector of Neolithisation in the Forest Zone.

East European movement directions (arrows) of the representatives of the Central European Corded Ware Culture. Modified from I.I. Artemenko.

The picture in the Baltic (Pamariu / Rzucewo) and Finland (Battle Axe) is thus more or less clearly connected with early dates ca. 2900-2800 BC:

There is a clear interaction sphere between the eastern Gulf of Finland area – reaching from Estonia to the areas of present-day Finland and the Karelian Isthmus in Russia –, evidenced e.g. by the sharp-butted axes, derived from the Estonian Karlova axe.

Interesting in this regard is the expansion of the Corded Ware culture in Finland, into a far greater territory than previously thought, that is poorly represented in most maps depicting the extent of the culture in Europe. Here is summary of CWC findings in Finland, using images from Nordqvist and Häkäla (2014):

Corded Ware culture remains in Finland, excluding the so-called ‘imitations’. [Notice in the top left image the often depicted border of the culture]. Combination of maps from Nordqvist & Häkälä (2014)

Middle Dnieper and Fatyanovo

The earliest Middle Dnieper remains are related to CWC graves between the Upper Vistula and the Bug, containing pottery with Middle Dnieper traits, dated probably ca. 2700 BC, which links it with the expansion of the A-horizon. In fact, during the period ca. 2800-2400 BC, the area of Lesser Poland (with its numerous kurgans and catacomb burials) is considered the western fringe of an area spreading to the east, to the middle Dniester and middle Dnieper river basins, i.e. regions bordering the steppe oecumene. This ‘eastern connection’ of funeral ritual, raw materials, and stylistic traits of artefacts is also identified in some graves of the Polish Lowlands (Włodarczak 2017).

Cultural situation in Eastern Europe in approximately the middle of the III mill. BC. Key: 1 – areas settled by Globular Amphora culture populations; 2 – areas penetrated by Globular Amphora culture populations; 3 – border between central and eastern group; 4 – Pamariu/Rzucewo culture area; 5 – zone of Pamariu/Rzucewo culture influences; 6 – directions of Comb Pottery culture influence; 7 – Zhizhitskaya culture; 8 – eastern border of “pure” Corded Ware site; 9 – North Belarussian culture; 10 – Middle Dnieper culture; 11 – Fatyanovo culture; 12 – Yamnaya culture; 13 – eastern border of Dniester group; 14 – Kemi-Oba culture and influences; 15 – Foltesti culture; 16 – syncretic sites with evidence of Globular Amphora culture traits (1 – Nida; 2 – Butinge; 3 – Palanga; 4 – Juodkrante; 5 – Azyarnoye; 6 – Mali Rogi; 7 – Prorva; 8 – Strumen/Losha; 9 – Syabrovichi; 10 – Luchin-Zavale; 11 – Lunevo (?); 12 – Belynets; 13 – Losiatyn; 14 – Corpaci; 15 – Ocnita; 16-17 – Camenca; 18 – Marculesti; 19 – Orhei; 20 – Efimovka; 21 – Tatarbunary; 22 – Novoselitsa; 23 – Primorskoye; 24 – Sanzhiyka; 25 – Akkermen; 26 – Maydanetskoye; 27 – Grigorevka; 28 – Kholmskoye; 29 – Purcari; 30 – Roscani; 31 – Semenovka; 32 – Grishevka; 33 – Durna Skela; 34 – Iskovshchina; 35 – Primorskoye); 17 – borders of ecological zones. From Szmyt (2010)

The Fatyanovo (or Fatyanovo-Balanovo) culture was the easternmost group of the Corded Ware culture, and occupied the centre of the Russian Plain, from Lake Ilmen and the Upper Dnieper drainage to the Wiatka River and the middle course of the Volga. From the few available dates, the oldest ones from the plains of the Moskva river, and from the late Volosovo culture containing also Fatyanovo materials, and in combination they show a date of ca. 2700 BC for its appearance in the region. The Volosovo culture of foragers eventually disappeared when the Fatyanovo culture expanded into the Upper and Middle Volga basin.

The origin of the culture is complicated, because it involves at its earliest stage different Corded Ware influences in neighbouring sites, at least on the Moskva river plains (Krenke et al. 2013): some materials (possibly earlier) show Circum-Baltic and Polish features; other sites show a connection to western materials, in turn a bridge to the Middle Dnieper culture. This suggests that groups belonging to different groups of the corded ware tradition penetrated the Moscow region.

The split of subclades Z93 – Z283

If we take into account that the split between R1-Z93 and R1a-Z283 must have happened during the 5th millennium BC, we have R1a-Z93 likely around the middle Dnieper area (as supported by the Alexandria sample), and R1a-Z283 possibly to the north(-west), so that it could have expanded easily into Central Europe, and – through the northern, Baltic region – to the east.

Where exactly lies the division is unclear, but for the moment all reported Circum-Baltic samples with Z645 subclades seem to belong to Z282, while R1a samples from Sintashta/Potapovka (including the Poltavka outlier) point to Abashevo being dominated by R1a-Z93 subclades.

We have to assume, then, that an original east-west split betwen R1a-Z283 and R1a-Z93 turned, in the eastern migrations, into a north-south split between Z282 and Z93, where Finland and Battle Axe in general is going to show Z282, and Middle Dnieper – Abashevo Z93 subclades.

Early Copper Age migrations ca. 3100-2600 BC.

I can think of two reasons why this is important:

  1. Depending on how Proto-Corded Ware peoples expanded, we may be talking about one community overcoming the other and imposing its language. Because either
    • clans of both Z93 and Z283 were quite close and kept intense cultural contacts around Dnieper-Dniester area; or
    • if the split is as early as the 5th millennium BC, and both communities separated then without contact, we are probably going to see a difference in the language spoken by both of them.
  2. In any case, the main north-south division of eastern Corded Ware groups is pointing to an important linguistic division within the Uralic-speaking communities, specifically between a Pre-Finno-Ugric and a Pre-Samoyedic one, and potentially between Pre-Finno-Permic and Pre-Ugric.

These may seem irrelevant questions – especially for people interested only in Indo-European migrations. However, for those interested in the history of Eurasian peoples and languages as a whole, they are relevant: even those who support an ‘eastern’ origin of Proto-Uralic, like Häkkinen, or Parpola (who are, by the way, in the minority, because most Uralicists would point to eastern Europe well before the Yamna expansion), place the Finno-Ugric expansion with the Netted Ware culture as the latest possible Finno-Ugric immigrants in Fennoscandia.

The Netted Ware culture

The image below shows the approximate expansion of Corded Ware peoples of Battle Axe traditions in Finland, as well as neighbouring Fennoscandian territories, from ca. 2800 BC until the end of the 3rd millennium. A controversial 2nd (late) wave of the so-called Estonian Corded Ware is popular in texts about this region, but has not been substantiated, and it seems to be a regional development, rather than the product of migrations.

Left: Corded Ware remains in Finland from ca. 2800 BC, according to Nordqvist & Häkälä (2014), combined in a single image. Right: Distribution of the Corded Ware culture within Finland. Mapped (black dots) are finds of typical stone battle axes, used as a proxy (data from [8]). The red isolines indicate average permanent snow cover period from 1981 to 2010 (data from [9]). A recent study estimates the snow cover period ca 4500 years ago would have been 40–50 days less than today [10]. Overlying coloration refers to the lactose persistance (LP) allele gradient in modern northeastern Europe (see the electronic supplementary material, appendix B: Material and methods and table 1, for details); lozenge dots specify the dataset mean points for the triangulation. From Cramp et al. (2014).

As we have seen, Fatyanovo represents the most likely cultural border zone between Circum-Baltic peoples reaching from the Russian Battle Axe to the south, and Middle Dnieper peoples reaching from Abashevo to the north. In that sense, it also represents the most likely border culture between north-western (mainly R1a-Z282) and south-eastern (R1a-Z93) subclades.

With worsening climatic conditions (cooler seasons) at the end of the 3rd millennium, less settlements are apparent in the archaeological record in Finland. After ca. 2000 BC, two CWC-related cultures remain: in the coast, the Kiukainen culture, derived from the original Circum-Baltic Corded Ware settlers, reverts to a subsistence economy which includes hunting and fishing, and keeps mainly settlements (from the best territories) along the coast. In the inland, Netted Ware immigrants eventually appear from the south.

Image modified from Cramp et al. (2014) “The timeline shows the archaeological cultures
discussed here alongside actual sherds sampled and typical vessel forms (after [26–28]) (latter not shown to scale). Distribution maps show the geographical range of (f) Typical Comb Ware, (g) Corded Ware, (h) Kiukainen Ware and (i) Bronze Age cultures in the region (after [10,20,29]).”

The Netted Ware culture emerged in the Upper Volga–Oka region, derived from the Abashevo culture and its interaction with the Seima-Turbino network, and spread ca. 1900-1800 BC to the north into Finland, spreading into eastern regions previously occupied by cultures producing asbestos and organic-tempered wares (Parpola 2018).

NOTE. Those ‘contaminated’ by the Copenhagen fantasy map series may think that Volosovo hunter-gatherers somehow survived the expansion of Fatyanovo-Balanovo and Abashevo, hidden for hundreds of years in the forest, and then reappeared and expanded the Netted Ware culture. Well, they didn’t. At least not in archaeological terms, and certainly not with the genetic data we have.

If we combine all this information, and we think about these peoples in terms of Pre-Finno-Permic and Pre-Ugric languages developing side by side, we get a really interesting picture (see here for Proto-Fennic estimates):

  • The Battle Axe around the Baltic Sea – including the Gulf of Finland and Scandinavia – would be the area of expansion of Pre-Finno-Permic peoples, of R1a-Z283 subclades, which became later concentrated mainly on coastal regions;
  • the southern areas may correspond to Pre-Ugric peoples, which expanded later to the north with Netted Ware (see image below) – their precise subclades may be dependent on what will be found in Fatyanovo;
  • and Pre-Samoyedic peoples (of R1a-Z93 subclades) would have become isolated somewhere in the Cis- or (more likely) Trans-Urals region after 2000 BC, possibly from the interaction of the latest Balanovo stages and the Seima-Turbino phenomenon.
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.)

These communities in contact would have allowed for:

  • the known Indo-Iranian loanwords in Finno-Ugric to spread through a continuum of early dialects formed by Abashevo – Fatyanovo – Battle Axe groups;
  • the Finno-Saamic substrate of Germanic to be associated with Battle Axe groups in Scandinavia;
  • the important Palaeo-Germanic loanwords in Finno-Saamic spreading with long-term contacts (from Pre-Germanic to the Proto-Germanic, and later North Germanic period) through the Baltic Sea, between Scandinavia and the Gulf of Finland;
  • and Tocharian contacts with Samoyedic (although limited, and in part controversial), which point to its early expansion to the east of the Ural Mountains.

On the other hand, if one is inclined to believe that R1a and steppe ancestry do represent Indo-European speakers… which language was spoken from the Gulf of Finland well into the north, the inland, and Karelia, and in Northern Russia, by Corded Ware peoples and their cultural heirs (like Kiukainen or Netted Ware) for almost three thousand years?

Because we know that no other peoples of different haplogroups dominated over eastern Fennoscandia until the Iron Age, and N1c and Siberian ancestry expanded separately, and probably due to late bottlenecks, especially with Fennic peoples expanding recently to the north at the expense of the Saami population.

After the expansion of Bell Beaker peoples, the geographic distribution of late Corded Ware groups in the second half of the 3rd millennium, just before their demise – and before the expansion of Netted Ware to the north – , can be depicted thus as follows:

Early Bronze Age Europe.

Territories in cyan must then represent, for some people who believe in an archaic Indo-Slavonic of sorts, the famous Fennoscandian Balto-Slavic to the north (before they were displaced by incoming Finno-Saamic peoples of hg N1c during the Iron Age and up to the Middle Ages); and the also famous Tundra-Forest Indo-Iranian in the Upper Volga area, a great environment for the development of the two-wheeled chariot…

But let’s leave the discussion on imaginary IE dialects for another post, and continue with the real question at hand.

A steppe funerary connection?

Back to Złota as a transitional culture, we have already seen how the corded ware vessels characteristic of the Classic CWC are related to Globular Amphora tradition, and show no break with this culture. It is usually believed that the funerary rites were adopted from steppe influence, too. That is probably right; but it does not mean that it came from Yamna or other coeval (or previous) steppe culture; at least not directly.

NOTE. A similar problem is seen when we read that Mierzanowice or Trzciniec show “Corded Ware” traits from a neighbouring CWC group, when CWC groups disappeared long before these cultures emerged. For cultural groups that are separated centuries from each other, an assertion as to their relationship needs specifics in terms of dates and material connection, or it is plainly wrong.

These are the funerary ritual features from Złota (later specialized in Corded Ware), as described by Włodarczak (2017):

  • Single burial graves; along with the habit of interring the deceased in multiple burial graves, but emphasizing their individual character by careful deposition of the body and personal nature of the grave goods.
  • Grave goods with materials and stylistiscs belonging to an older system (e.g. amber products); and others correlated to the ‘new world’ of the CWC, such as flint products made of the raw materials tipical of Lesser Poland’s CWC, copper ornaments, stone shaft-hole axes, bone and shell ornaments, and characteristic forms of vessels like beakers and amphoras.
  • Military goods, which would become prevalent in later periods, are present in a moderate number, compatible with their lesser importance.
  • There are also cases of the characteristic catacomb (“niche”) graves – with an entrance pit, a more extensive niche, and a narrow corridor leading to a vault – , as well as some individual cases of application of ochre and deformation of skulls.
Catacomb grave no. 2a/06 from Książnice, Złota culture (acc. to Wilk 2013). Image from Włodarczak (2017)

It seems that the Złota funerary tradition was also “transitional”, like corded ware vessels, into the classical Corded Ware ideology. But “transitional” from what exactly? Yamna? Probably not.

The Lublin-Volhynia culture

One needs not look for a too distant culture to find similarities. Włodarczak (2017) points to CWC in south-eastern Poland and Kuyavia showing, by the time of the Yamna expansion, a funeral rite and features of the material culture without straightforward analogies in the world of north Pontic communities, and thus suggests that the “A-horizon” is a local phenomenon of central European origin.

This assertion is interesting, in so far as most Corded Ware samples investigated to date seem to come precisely from an East-Central territory near the Ukraine forest steppe, with a cluster already established by the end of the 5th millennium:

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

The following text is from Stanisław Wilk (2018), about the Lublin-Volhynian (and related) cemeteries at Wyciąże and Książnice:

A reach of the Wyciąże-Złotniki group and Lublin-Volhynian culture in the south-eastern Poland and western Ukraine: 1. Area of the Wyciąże-Złotniki group; 2. Area of the Lublin-Volhynian culture. A. Cemetery of the Lublin-Volhynian culture at site 2 in Książnice; B. Cemetery of the Wyciąże-Złotniki group at site 5 in Kraków Nowa Huta-Wyciąże (drawing by S. Wilk based on Zakościelna 2006 and Nowak 2014, on a background downloaded from

Regardless of the differences between the two necropolises (such as the number of burials, the area which has been explored, the orientation and layout of burials), it seems that they have several key elements in common:

  • concentration of graves in separate cemeteries;
  • differentiation of burials with regard to sex (the principle of the ‘left ̶ right’ side, different burial goods for males and females);
  • stratification of graves with regard to the richness of their inventories (this mainly applied to copper artefacts);
  • occurrence of indicators of the richest male burials (a copper dagger in Wyciąże, a copper battle axe, a small axe and a chisel in Książnice);
  • allocation of a separate area for elite burials (the eastern burial area in Książnice, and the southeastern and north-central part of the necropolis in Wyciąże), as well as one for egalitarian burials (the western area in Książnice, and the south-central and western part of the cemetery in Wyciąże).
Plan of the Lublin-Volhynian culture cemetery at site 2 in Książnice: 1. female graves; 2. man graves; 3. copper traces; 4. cenothap; 5. cremation grave; 6. partial grave; 7. estimated area of the L-VC cemetery; 8. estimated area of an elite and poor burial fields; 9. area of burials containing copper artefacts (drawing by S. Wilk).

The above-mentioned characteristics prove that the patterns of social and religious behaviours from areas lying beyond the Carpathian Mountains exerted a strong influence on the two societies living in Lesser Poland.

Anna Zakościelna, while describing the similarities between the burial ritual of the late Polgár groups and cultures from areas on the Tisza river and the Lublin-Volhynia culture, claimed that:

a characteristic feature of the burial ritual of both cultures was practicing various group norms, which required different treatment of the deceased depending on their sex, age and social rank. As in the Lublin-Volhynia culture, the opposition ‘male – female’ can the most clearly be observed ̶ particularly, in the consistent positioning of males on the right, and females, on the left side. And, there is much indication that this ritual norm divided the deceased from early childhood (Sofaer Derevensky 1997: 877, Tab. 1; Lichter 2001: 276- 280, 322-323) (Zakościelna 2010: 227-228).

It seems that these observations can also be extended to the Wyciąże-Złotniki group.

Another question is whether the evidence of the influences of the copper civilization observed in both cemeteries emerged as a result of the literal copying of patterns from the south, or whether the latter were only a source of inspiration for local solutions.

Looking at this problem form the perspective of the details of burial ritual, between the Carpathian Basin and Lesser Poland, we can observe clear differences, among others, in the size of cemeteries and orientation of burials. While, in the Carpathian Basin there were large necropolises, consisting of several dozen burials located in rows, with the dominant orientation along the SE-NW and E-W axis (Lichter 2001: Abb. 123, 143; Kadrow 2008: 87); in Lesser Poland there were small cemeteries of several to a dozen or so burials, mostly oriented along the S-N axis (in the Lublin-Volhynia culture; Zakościelna 2010: 66), as well as S-E and NE-SW (in the Wyciąże-Złotniki group; Kaczanowska 2009: 77). Similarly, there are differences in the details of the burial goods. North of the Carpathians, there is a much smaller frequency of copper artefacts, particularly in the group of prestigious, heavy items (battle axes, axes and daggers), as well as a complete lack of objects made of gold. Want is more, the pottery found in the graves has a distinct local character, only supplemented by imitating or imports from areas beyond the Carpathians (Zakościelna 2006: 85; Nowak 2014: 273; a different opinion Kozłowski 2006: 57). Therefore, the suggestion made by Nowak seems right ̶ namely, that these influences were not caused by migrations of groups of the population living on the Tisza river to Lesser Poland, but were rather due to processes of selective cultural transmission (Nowak 2014: 273).

Therefore, the sharing of a similar funerary rite (as happened later between Lublin-Volhynia and Złota), although it shows a strong cultural connection with autochthonous cultures, is obviously not the same as sharing ancestors; and even if it were so, they would not need to be paternal ancestors. But it shows that important Corded Ware cultural traits are local developments, and it disconnects thus still more supposed CWC ‘steppe traits’ from steppe cultures, and connects them with the first steppe-related cultural wave that reached central Europe in the 5th millennium BC.

Prehistoric Pontic—Caspian links

How would a Lublin-Volhynia culture be related to the North Pontic area ca. 4500-3000 BC? We can enjoy the map series of Baltic—Pontic migrations by Viktor Klochko (2009), and make a wild guess:

Pontic—Baltic routes of migrations during the Eneolithic. Top left: Linear Pottery expansion. Top right: Funnel Beaker expansion. Bottom left: late Trypillia expansion. Bottom right: GAC expansion.

And then read the account of Sławomir Kadrow, in Exchange of People, Ideas and Things between Cucuteni-Trypillian Complex and Areas of South-Eastern Poland (2016):

In the second half of the 5th millennium BC (horizon 1), communities of the Tripolye culture, phases BI-BII, had contacts with the population of the late (IIa) phase of the Malice culture. The areas settled by both cultural complexes were located at a great distance from each other. The communities of the Tripolye culture adopted selected features of Malice ceramic production (fig 2). This seems to have resulted from marital exchange: on a moderate scale, Tripolye men sought out their wives in the area of the Malice culture and, according to patrilocal marriage customs, the women then moved to the Tripolye settlements, sporadically transferring ready-made ceramic products, so-called imports, to the Tripolye culture. Thus, the wives were responsible for the considerably more numerous imitations of the Malice ceramics and the long-lasting, though selective, traditions of Malice pottery passed down in their new environment. The patrilocal marriage customs involving the Malice women and the Tripolye men (never the other way round), and the fact that pottery was women’s domain, led to the unidirectional transfer of vessels, technology and norms of ceramic production from the Malice culture to the Tripolye culture.

The turn of the 5th and the 4th millennia and the early 4th millennium BC (horizon 2) witnessed the deepening interaction between the populations of the youngest (IIb) phase of the Malice culture and the classic (II) phase of the Lublin-Volhynia culture on the one hand and the communities of phase BII of the Tripolye culture on the other. The Danube and the Tripolye settlement complexes came into contact on the upper Dniester and between the Styr and the Horyn rivers in Volhynia. This helped to continue the previous forms of marital exchange, which resulted in further popularisation of the ceramics and the traditions of ceramic production typical of the Danube cultures, i.e. the Malice and the Lublin-Volhynia cultures, and also the Polgár culture, in the areas settled by the Tripolye cultural complex.

As the civilizational norms of the Eneolithic (Copper) Age became widespread in that period, the forms of interaction described above acquired new elements. The deepening internal diversification of the early Eneolithic communities of the Lublin-Volhynia culture led to a growing demand for prestige objects, which was met with import or imitation of copper artefacts, mainly those from the Carpathian Basin, and with flint tools produced from long blades. That type of flint production depended largely on new technologies derived from the Tripolye culture, as proven by such borrowings as troughlike retouch or the very idea and technology for the production of long flint blades in the Lublin-Volhynia culture. It seems that the influx of Tripolye settlers into flintbearing areas in Volhynia and on the upper Dniester, adjacent to the settlement centres of the late phase of the Malice culture and the Lublin-Volhynia culture, created sufficient conditions for the expanding influence of the Tripolye flint working on the communities of the Eneolithic Lublin-Volhynia culture.

In the mid-4th millennium BC (horizon 3), those forms of interaction between the Danube communities (the late phase of the Lublin-Volhynian culture) and the Tripolye communities (phase CI)were continued. Elements of the Danube pottery still grew in popularity in the Tripolye population, while selected features of the Tripolye flint working were adopted by the Lublin-Volhynia culture.

In that period, the population of the Funnel Beaker culture of the pre-classic and early classic phases (the beginnings of Gródek 1 and Bronocice III), until then absent from those areas, quite quickly drove out and replaced the Danube population in western Volhynia and the upper Dniester basin. This caused significant changes in the forms and intensity of the intercultural interaction, which became fully apparent already in the 2nd half of the 4th millennium BC.

In the following period (horizon 4), the population of the classic phase of the Funnel Beaker culture (Gródek 1, Bronocice III) settled more and more intensively the upper Dniester basin, up to the Hnyla Lypa river, and western Volhynia, up to the Styr river. East of those rivers, the Funnel Beaker settlers created considerable areas where they mixed with settlers from early phase CII of the Tripolye culture. Their coexistence, lasting there for many generations, resulted in deepening the interactions between members of both cultural complexes and in developing entirely new forms of relationships.


The intensifying interaction between the communities of the Funnel Beaker culture and the Tripolye culture, early phase CII, in the 2nd half of the 4th millennium BC (horizon 4) was an introduction to, and perhaps a condition for, even more frequent contacts in the next period, the first centuries of the 3rd millennium BC (horizon 5). In that case, the interaction was mainly triggered by multidirectional migrations of larger human groups, involving a significant part of the population of all cultures from the areas discussed here. The Tripolye communities of younger phase CII settled Volhynia, its eastern areas in particular, from the south and the south-east, while groups representing the younger phases of the Funnel Beaker culture (Gródek 2), often with Baden features (Bronocice IV and V), moved increasingly into the western part of that region. The Yamna communities expanded along the lower and central Danube to the west, whereas the populations of the late phase of the Baden culture took the opposite direction, reaching as far as Kiev in the northeast, and contributed to the cultural character of the Sofievka group.

The communities of the Globular Amphora culture migrated from the north-west, from eastern Poland, towards the Danube Delta and as far as the Dnieper in the east, while the multicultural population from the areas around the mouth of the Danube moved in the opposite direction, carrying with them cultural elements from Thrace, or even from Anatolia. Some of them returned to the starting point (to south-eastern Poland), bringing with them a new form of pottery, so-called Thuringian amphora, borrowed from the late Trypillian Usatovo group. This resulted in origins of the Złota culture, a cultural phenomenon that gave beginnings to the oldest Corded Ware culture. Inventories of both cultures contained the already mentioned Thuringian amphorae.

Graves and cemeteries with gender differentiated burial rites in Europe; A — Hamangia and Varna cultures; B — Tiszapolgar and Bodrogkeresztur cultures; C — Lublin-Volhynia culture; D — Brześć Kujawski culture. Added star symbol with approximate location of the Alexandria site. Modified image from Sławomir Kadrow (2016)

Here is a more recent assessment (2017) of the latest radiocarbon analyses of the available settlements of cultures in the area, published by Marek Novak (announced in a previous post), which gives the following data on Wyciąże-Złotniki, Lublin-Volhynia, and Wyciąże/Niedźwiedź:

This scheme unambiguously suggests both the overlapping and contiguous nature of cultural development in western Lesser Poland within the Middle Neolithic. The basic elements of this development are: 1) the Wyciąże-Złotniki group and the Lublin-Volhynian culture, until c. 3650–3550 cal BC; 2) the Funnel Beaker culture proper, which appeared c. 3750–3700c al BC, and existed until c. 3300–3250 cal BC, perhaps accompanied by the Wyciąże/Niedźwiedź materials from c. 3650–3550 cal BC; and 3) the Baden culture and the Funnel Beaker/Baden assemblages from 3100 and 3300–3100 cal BC, respectively, until 2850–2750 and 2850 cal BC, with – possibly – later Funnel Beaker culture and Wyciąże/ Niedźwiedź materials, existing until c. 3100 cal BC.

The final scheme shows that the Lublin-Volhynian culture could have coincided with the Wyciąże-Złotniki group. In view of the territorial relationship between them, relations from the point of view of material culture, primarily in the field of pottery, become particularly interesting. It is relatively easy to see clear similarities between these units. However, the most evident similarities apply only to some categories of ceramics, including, for example, vessels with Scheibenhenkel handles. What is more, in the period between the late 38th and early 36th centuries BC, the early Funnel Beaker and possibly early Baden influences are superimposed on this Lublin-Volhynian/Wyciąże-Złotniki ‘mix’.

[About Corded Ware: The] development of this unit in central Europe, including western Lesser Poland, [] usually point to c. 2800 cal BC (Włodarczak 2006a). (…) the calibration curve makes it possible to alternatively refer several dates earlier than c. 3100 to c. 2850–2800 cal BC.


There is no direct archaeological link of Lublin-Volhynia-related groups with Corded Ware, beyond the fact that they shared homeland and Central European (‘steppe-related’) traits, as found in the Złota culture. But there is no direct link of Yamna with Corded Ware, either, whether in terms of culture or population.

So, given the evident link of R1a-Z93 and steppe ancestry with the forest steppe ca. 4000 BC, the surrounding North Pontic areas in contact along the Dniester, Dnieper, Bug, and Prut are the best candidates for the appearance of R1a-Z283: steppe cultures to the south and south-west; sub-Neolithic (Comb Ware) groups to the north in the forest zone; and Eneolithic groups to the west and north-west.

Seeing how ‘ancestral components’ and PCA cluster can change within a few generations, the question of the spread of R1a-Z645 subclades is still not settled by a single sample in Alexandria. However, based on the explosive expansions we are seeing from small territories, it would not be surprising to find R1a-Z93 and R1a-Z283 side by side in the same small area within the forest steppe.

NOTE. An archaeological link may not mean anything relevant in genetics, especially – as in this case – when no clear migration event has been traced to date. We have seen exactly that with Kristiansen’s proposal of a long-term genetic admixture of Yamna with Trypillia and GAC to form Corded Ware, which didn’t happen. The cultural and ideological connection of CWC peoples with Lublin-Volhynian tradition may be similar to the already known connection with GAC, and not mean anything in genetic finds; at least in terms of Y-DNA haplogroup.

We believed in the 2000s that Corded Ware represented the expansion of Late Proto-Indo-European, because the modern map of haplogroup R1a showed a distribution similar to how we thought the European and Indo-Iranian languages could have expanded. This has been proven wrong, and that’s what ancient DNA is for; not to confirm the own ideas or models, or to support modern ideologies.

It is impossible to know if R1a-Z645 comes from the steppe, forest steppe, or forest zone, until more samples are published. I don’t think there will be any big surprise, no matter where it is eventually found. By now, adding linguistic reconstruction to archaeological traits, and to the genetic data from Yamna and Corded Ware settlers, the only clear pattern is that patrilineal clans expanded, during the Final Eneolithic / Chalcolithic:

  • Late Proto-Indo-European with Yamna and R1b-L23 subclades, given the known genomic data from Khvalynsk, Yamna, Afanasevo, Bell Beaker, Catacomb, and Poltavka—Sintashta/Potapovka.
  • Uralic with Corded Ware and R1a-Z645 subclades, given the known genomic data from Fennoscandia and the Forest Zone.

Everything else is just wishful thinking at this moment.


The Yampil Barrow complex and the Yamna connection with forest-steppe cultures


Researchers involved in the investigation of the Yampil Barrow Complex are taking the opportunity of their latest genetic paper to publish and upload more papers in

NOTE. These are from the free volume 22 of Baltic-Pontic Studies, Podolia “Barrow Culture” Communities: 4th/3rd-2nd Mill. BC. The Yampil Barrow Complex: Interdisciplinary Studies, whose website gives a warning depending on your browser (because of the lack of secure connection). Here is a link to the whole PDF.

Here are some of them, with interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

1. Kurgan rites in the Eneolithic and Early Bronze age Podolia in light of materials from the funerary ceremonial centre at Yampil, by Piotr Włodarczak (2017).

The particular interest in this group stemmed from its specific location within the “Yamnaya cultural-historical entity”: its exposure to Central European Corded ware culture (further as CWC) on the one hand, and discernible contact with communities representing the Globular Amphorae culture (GAC), expanding to the south-east, on the other [e.g. Szmyt 1999; 2000]. The location on the fringes of the north-western variant of the Yamnaya culture (YC) [acc. to Merpert 1974; cf Rassamakin 2013a; 2013b; Rassamakin, Nikolova 2008] opened up an interesting perspective for tracing the transfer of Central European cultural patterns to the North Pontic area, and for determining the specificity of the cultural model of steppe communities, which due to their geographic location seemed somehow predestined for westward expansion.

locations of Eneolithic and Early bronze age kurgan cemeteries in Podolia 1-7 – yampil cluster (1 – dobrianka, 2 – Klembivka, 3 – Pidlisivka, 4 – Porohy, 5 – Pysarivka, 6 – Prydnistryanske, 7 – Severynivka), 8-11 – Kamienka cluster (8 – hrustovaia, 9 – Kuzmin, 10 – Ocniţa, 11 – Podoima), 12 – mocra, 13 – Tymkove

Podolia kurgans originate from various stages of the Eneolithic and Early bronze ages, and this chronological diversity is reflected in differences in construction of mounds and central graves for which kurgans were originally built (being burials of the “kurgans’ founders”). These oldest burials link with various Eneolithic and YC communities, and the taxonomic attribution of some of the phenomena discussed here poses difficulties. This stems from the nature of the finds, which are sometimes only slightly distinctive and often retrieved from contexts difficult to interpret (e.g. from kurgans damaged to a significant degree). Another reason for the high discordance and ambiguity of opinions lies in the nature of the problem itself, since taxonomic definitions can be no more than proxies for cultural processes which are both fluid and multi-directional. This is particularly evident for phenomena associated with the Eneolithic and the very beginnings of the Bronze Age in steppe and forest-steppe areas [e.g. Rassamakin 2013; Manzura 2016], while later stages (the classic and late YC) are marked by much more regularity in terms of funeral rituals. Funerary behaviours displayed by Eneolithic steppe groups were the outcome of intercultural relationships and often combined elements borrowed from different milieus [e.g. Rassamakin 2008: 215, 216]. One consequence of this is the multitude of approaches to the description of Eneolithic phenomena proposed in the literature, with the controversies the situation creates. This is also true for the Podolia kurgans discussed here, where chronology is relatively easy to interpret while taxonomical attributions are much more difficult. A good example in this context is a recently published complex at Prydnistryanske, which has been linked either with the late Trypilia group of Gordinești [Klochko et al 2015d] or with the Eneolithic steppe formation known as Zhivotilovka-Volchansk [Manzura 2016], or recently with the Bursuceni group [Demcenko 2016].

A distinct feature of Podolia kurgans having YC burials is the multi-phase nature of their mounds, a feature recorded throughout the North Pontic area. It is particularly evident in the cases of sequences of burials (typically two burials) placed in the central parts of kurgans and connected with separate stages of the mound’s construction. In this context, the temporal and cultural relationship between the older and younger burial becomes a very interesting issue. Younger burials typically revealed traits characteristic of the YC complex, while older ones were often different and distinguished by a different shape of the grave pit and sometimes a different arrangement and orientation of the body as well. In the most evident cases, older pits held a body in the extended position, reminiscent of the Postmariupol/ Kvityana tradition (…). In such cases, the older grave often stands out with a funerary tradition diverging from model YC behaviours, in terms of orientation, body position, and constructional features.

Location of Yampil and Kamienka ceremonial centres, and barrows of the Yamnaya culture, Corded Ware culture, and Late Eneolithic groups of the Podolia Plateau and adjacent areas. Legend. 1 – barrows and barrow groups of the Yamnaya culture; 2 – barrows and barrow groups of the Corded Ware culture; 3 – Eneolithic barrows; 4 – barrows of undetermined cultural attribution, dated to the 3rd millennium BC [after Włodarczak 2014b, revised]

Kvitjana and Trypillia

The Pre-Yamnaya (Eneolithic) phase came to be distinguished in kurgan cemeteries from the Podolie region after the discovery of burials in extended position (i.e. of the Kvityana/Postmariupol type) at Ocniţa (Fig 10: 2, 3) [kurgans 6 and 7; Manzura et al 1992] and Tymkove (Fig 10: 1) [Subbotin et al 2000, 84, ris 3: 4]. In all these three cases the burials marked the oldest phase of mound construction, and later YC burials were dug into the central part of the kurgan, which entailed the remodelling and considerable enlargement of the mound. Both the chronological and taxonomic positions of extended burials in the North Pontic area are subjects of debate [e.g. Manzura 2010; Rassamakin 2013; Ivanova 2015, 280-282] (…)

The chronological position of graves with burials in extended position can be narrowed down thanks to stratigraphic observations made in kurgans at Bursuceni, between the Dniester and Prut rivers [Yarovoy 1978]. Graves from this site were younger than the burials representing the Zhivotilovka-Volchansk tradition and older than those linked with the early phase of YC based on a relatively compact series of radiocarbon dates obtained for graves of the Zhivotilovka-Volchansk group, the chronology of burials in extended position can be determined as the very close of the 4th – beginning of the 3rd millennia BC (most likely around 3100-2800 BC).

Early and late Yamna

A model ceremonial-funerary complex created by a YC community is a group of kurgans in Pysarivka village [harat et al 2014: 104-165]. Nine mounds have been explored there, of which eight (1, 3-9) yielded central burials of YC sharing a number of similar features (Fig 13). The deceased were placed in regular, rectangular pits having vertical walls Vykids (mounds of soil extracted while digging grave pits) formed regular narrow walls surrounding each grave, and seem to have been integral elements of sepulchral architecture. Chambers were covered with 5-7 timbers/planks arranged parallel to the grave’s longer axis. Another characteristic element was that of wooden stakes driven symmetrically into the bottom along grave chamber edges, recorded in four cases. The deceased were laid on their backs, in a contracted position with the knees up. The head was as a rule turned to W, with possible deflections towards NW or SW Skeletons bore traces of painting with ochre.

Prydnistryanske, Yampil region reconstruction of stages of grave IV/4 construction by M. Podsiadło

The role of south-eastern connections at the early stage of YC development can also be seen in grave IV/4 at Prydnistryanske. This is indicated by a combined (wood and stone) roof construction involving stela-like slabs, and by the skull of the deceased characteristically painted with red pigment. The absolute date obtained for grave IV/4 (ca 3100-3000 bC) suggests its early provenance [Goslar et al 2015]. The grave was most likely connected with the oldest stage of enlargement of the Eneolithic barrow [Klochko et al 2015].

The middle phase of YC is quite clearly evident in Podolia kurgans, it is marked by burials dug into the existing mounds. These are either single burials inserted into different parts of the mounds, or groups of graves forming arches around a central part. Graves with steps leading to the burial chamber are typical of that stage, and they were wider than those in the centres of kurgans. Chambers were typically roofed with planks or timbers placed perpendicularly to the grave’s longer axis burials on one side and burials on the back but leaning to either side become more numerous, and upper limbs were most often placed in A, G, H, or I arrangements ceramic vessels become more common in graves, including forms indicative of contacts with GAC and CWC milieus.

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

Based on the anatomical properties of the structure of a human body, the histological structure of the skin and location of the dye used for tattooing, having conducted an analysis of postmortem changes occurring within the skin after death, and having taken into consideration the continuous and regular nature of the pattern on the ulnae of the individual from grave no. 10, an interdisciplinary team of researchers has concluded that there is no possibility of a transfer of tattoo dye from the skin onto the surface of an individual’s bone.

The analysis of two ulnae documented in this article indicates that the patterns were made using tree tar, postmortem and directly onto the skeletonised human remains. The placement of the individual’s ulnae in grave no. 10 (Fig. 10), and the location of patterns on the upper skin surface, that is, on surfaces accessible without changing the arrangement of the body, may suggest that the patterns were created on the skeletonised remains without the need to change their placement in the pit (= in situ).

The present conclusions ought to see the beginning of a wider research programme focused on the analysis of the techniques used to create decorations on bones in “kurgan cultures” communities in the context of the Pontic-Caspian Region.

Porohy, Yampil Region, barrow 3A, feature 10. Macro- and microscopic examination results: 1 – right ulna with visible decorations and close-up of the decoration; 2 – left ulna with visible decorations and close-up of the decoration. Photo by D. Lorkiewicz-Muszyńska

3. Builders and users of ritual centres, Yampil barrow complex: studies of diett based on stable carbon nitrogen isotope composition, by Goslar et al. (2017).

Foxtail millet caryopses are used to make primarily flour, groats and pancakes [lityńska-zając, wasylikowa 2005: 109]. Grains and flour are easily digestible and as such, they are recommended to infants and the elderly. Grains are also fed to fowl and poultry in Asia, foxtail millet is used to make beer and wine, while in China it is also used for medicinal purposes [Hanelt 2001 (Ed )]. Various dishes and beverages made from broomcorn and foxtail millet caryopses in Eurasia are listed by Sakamoto [1987a]. Detailed ethnobotanical studies of the cultivation, crop processing and food preparation in the Iberian Peninsula were presented by Moreno-Larrazabal et al.[2015] .

The geographical area under discussion can be related to historical and ethnographic data indicating the use of grits and groats in the diet. They had been known in the menus of European societies since the ‘pre-agrarian’ times. The isotope finding of millet domination in the diet of middle Dniester Yampil Barrow Complex, complemented by bioarchaeological data from the upper steppe Dniester area (from the similarly ‘early-barrow’ Usatovo group/culture with strongly marked ‘eastern’ civilization influences), makes it reasonable to consider the possibility that already in the prologue of late Eneolithic-Early bronze barrow culture (3300- 2800 BC) development there was a clear dividing line of millet groats use – or millet presence – that is, so-called yagla groats (yagla, yagly = millet in Old Slavic languages).

Composition of stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes in bone collagen from the Yampil Barrow Complex against the ranges of isotopic composition expected for various diet components [after Gerling 2015: Fig 6 16] The meaning of colours and symbols concerning the Yampil Barrow Complex is the same as in Fig 3 For the sake of comparison, the isotopic composition in human >bones from two sites on the dnieper (ca 5200-5000 bC) is given, in which the share of freshwater fish in the diet was confirmed by the measurements of the reservoir effect [lillie et al. 2009]


Yamna female shows decoration of bones after body decomposition

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

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

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

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

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

Burial and reconstruction. Foto by Michał Podsiadło.

This is what the team has discovered since then:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Żurkiewicz believes that:

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

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

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

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

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

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


Trypillia and Greece Neolithic outliers: the smoking gun of Proto-Anatolian migrations?


(Continued from the post Corded Ware culture origins: The Final Frontier).

Looking at the PCA of Wang et al. (2018), I realized that Sredni Stog / Corded Ware peoples seem to lie somewhere between:

  • the eastern steppe (i.e. Khvalynsk-Yamna); and
  • Lower Danube and Balkan cultures affected by Anatolian- and steppe-related (i.e. Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka) migrations.

This multiethnic interaction of the western steppe fits therefore the complex archaeological description of events in the North Pontic, Lower Danube, and Dnieper-Dniester regions. Here are some interesting samples related to those long-lasting contacts:

1. I3719 (mtDNA H1, Y-DNA I2a2a) Ukraine Neolithic sample from Dereivka ca. 4949–4799 BC, described in Mathieson et al. (2018) as of “entirely northwestern-Anatolian-Neolithic-related ancestry”.

2. ANI163 from Varna I ca. 4711–4550 BC (mtDNA H7a1), and I2181 from Balkans Chalcolithic (Smyadovo, in Bulgaria) ca. 4500 BC (mtDNA HV15, Y-DNA R) show the first steppe ancestry in regions known to be affected by the expansion of Suvorovo chiefs.

3. The Yamna Bulgaria outlier (Y-DNA I2a2a1b1b), 3012-2900 calBCE, shows apparently an admixture with cultures of that region (but 1,500 years later).

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

Trypillia and Corded Ware

4. There is one ‘Trypillia outlier’ among five samples from the Verteba cave in Wang et al. (2018): I1927 (Y-DNA G2a2b2a1a1b1a1a1, mtDNA H1b), ca. 3619-2936 BC, a sample published previously in Nikitin et al. (2017) and Mathieson et al. (2017). We were very quick to dismiss Trypillia (three samples of haplogroup G2a, one sample E) and GAC as a source of Corded Ware admixture, but archaeology clearly shows important population movements at the end of the fourth millennium between late Trypillia groups, GAC, and post-Sredni Stog populations, and genetics is showing that in both cultures, too.

I am not a fan of the ‘lack of samples’ argument, but (similar to Old Hittite samples related to all Anatolian speakers) one site is not enough to describe a culture that spanned millennia and many different early and late groups. One among five Trypillian samples (from a single site), showing a late date (ca. 3228 BC) compared to the other samples (ca. 3700 BC), and quite close to the only three Ukraine Eneolithic samples we have may mean much more than what we may a priori think, i.e. some simplistic unidirectional punctual ‘intrusion’ of steppe ancestry, and instead hint at the known close contacts of late Trypillian groups and North Pontic cultures, including also the Caucasus.

NOTE. The big difference in PCA among GAC-like Hungary LCA – EBA samples (see above two star symbols close to Ukraine Neolithic outlier in the PCA, in contrast with the other three at the bottom) may also be significant, although we don’t have any data about their culture, sites, or the relationship between them.

Location of Verteba Cave in relation to different stages and neighbouring groups of the Cucuteni-Trypillia culture. Image from the paper A Subterranean Sanctuary of the Cucuteni-Trypillia Culture in Western Ukraine, by Kadrow and Pokutta (2016).

Greece Neolithic outlier: Proto-Anatolians?

5. Especially interesting is I6423, one of the Greece Neolithic samples referred to in Wang et al. (2018), which is obviously an outlier among the three used in the paper. It does not seem to correspond to any of the ancient DNA samples published to date; it is not in Hofmanova et al. (2016), in Lazaridis et al. (2017), or in Mathieson et al. (2018).

Since the Neolithic in Greece could mean any period from ca. 6500 BC to ca. 3200 BC, I guess we are talking here about some migration related to the expansion of Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka chieftains after ca. 4500 BC, because it appears on the PCA precisely on the same spot as Varna and Smyadovo outliers, and its ADMIXTURE shows similar components

Image modified from Wang et al. (2018). “ADMIXTURE results of relevant prehistoric individuals mentioned in the text (filled symbols)”. ‘Outlier’ samples referred to in this post have been marked in red. See the original file here.

So, this may be the smoking gun of Proto-Anatolian (or maybe early Common Anatolian) expansion with steppe migrants up to the border of Western Anatolia, and we may be able to get rid of those unfounded doubts about Anatolian origins once and for all…

NOTE. Also interesting seems another Greece Neolithic sample, I6420, in ADMIXTURE, although its position in the PCA (near Minoans and Mycenaeans) does not necessarily point to potential steppe influence, but rather to the extra ‘eastern (Caucasus/Iran-related) ancestry’ contribution found in Minoans and in Mycenaeans (and Anatolia Chalcolithic) compared to previous samples of the region. The third Greece Nelithic sample, I5427 (mtDNA K1a24), from Diros, Alepotrypa Cave, is dated 6005-5879 BC (mean 5892 BC), and appeared first in Mathieson et al. (2018).

Modified from Wang et al. (2018) (Greece_Neolithic in red). Supplementary Table 6. P values of rank=1 in modelling the two-way admixture in the Caucasus cluster. Right populations: Mbuti.DG, Ust_Ishim.DG, Kostenki14, MA1, Han.DG, Papuan.DG, Onge.DG, Villabruna, Vestonice16, ElMiron, Ethiopia_4500BP.SG, Karitiana.DG, Natufian, Iran_Ganj_Dareh_Neolithic. Source 2 populations in bold print are used as examples in modelling the Caucasus cluster groups (See Supplementary Table 7).
Modified from Wang et al. (2018) (Greece_Neolithic in red). Supplementary Table 10. P values of rank=2 and ancestry proportions in modelling a three-way admixture in the Caucasus cluster testing additional contribution from Iran_ChL. Here, we used an extended set of outgroup populations populations to constrain standard errors: Right populations: Mbuti.DG, Ust_Ishim.DG, Kostenki14, MA1, Han.DG, Papuan.DG, Onge.DG, Villabruna, Vestonice16, ElMiron, Ethiopia_4500BP.SG, Karitiana.DG, Natufian, Iran_Ganj_Dareh_Neolithic, EHG, WHG, Levant_N.

If this Greece Neolithic sample is not related to Yamna migrations – and its use for statistical analysis of Caucasus samples from Wang et al. (2018) suggests that it is not – , it may have important consequences:

If it is located near the Western Anatolian coast – especially near Troy – there won’t be much to add about the potential site of entry of Common Anatolian languages into Anatolia… I have read some comments about how ‘impossible’ it was for steppe migrants and their language to ‘invade’ the more advanced cultures of Anatolia from the west, but it seems as ‘impossible’ as it was for Barbarians to invade the Roman Empire and impose their language as elites in certain regions. (And yes, we have at least one important weak political period among Middle Eastern cultures in the early 3rd millennium BC, similar to the period of the Fall of the Western Roman Empire).

Most likely Proto-Anatolian expansion in the North Pontic and Balkan area with Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka chieftains, including ADMIXTURE data from Wang et al. (2018).

If it is located somewhere more ‘central’ in the Greek Peninsula, then it could also be used to support the Anatolian nature of the controversial Pre-Greek (‘Pelasgian’) substrate. While we know that Greek (at least since Mycenaean) shows a strong Pre-Greek cultural and linguistic heritage (also reflected in its genetic continuity), the nature of that language is usually believed to be non-Indo-European, and Anatolian contacts are rather few and coincident with the Mycenaean period. I don’t think this sample can tell much about the Pre-Greek language, though, because – if it is really Neolithic, and comparing it with later Minoan and Mycenaean samples – it seems a clear outlier.

Heyd (2016): The Southeast European distribution of graves of the Suvorovo-Novodanilovka group and such unequipped ones mentioned in the text which can be attributed by burial custom and stratigraphic position in the barrow, plus zoomorphic and abstract animal head sceptres as well as specific maceheads with knobs as from Decea Maresului (mid-5th millennium until around 4000 BC). The site in the south-west Balkans is Suvodol-Šuplevec, Northern Macedonia (FYROM).

If it is, however, related to later Yamna migrations after ca. 3000 BC (and, like the ‘Ukraine Eneolithic’ sample that is likely from Catacomb, it is classified as Neolithic just because it cannot be attributed to precise Helladic periods), then we may be in front of the first obvious Yamna migrants in Greece. If that is the case (which I doubt), the sample wouldn’t be so informative for PIE dialectal expansions, because by now it is evident that we will find steppe ancestry and R1b-Z2103 subclades accompanying Yamna migrants in the southern Balkans, and probably well into Mycenaean Greece.

NOTE. Whatever the case, I am sure that for those fond of absurd autochthonous continuity theories, as well as for anti-steppe conspirationists, this sample will be just another good way of arguing for anything, ranging from a rejection of the Middle PIE – Late PIE division, to a support for some mythic ancient autochtonous Proto-Graeco-Anatolian group, or maybe some ancient Graeco–Indo-Slavonic split, or whatever new dialectal stage one can invent to support the own genealogical fantasies…

So, if it actually is a Neolithic sample, let’s hope that it shows a clear R1b-M269 (xL23 or early L23) subclade distinct from those (likely Z2103) expanded later with Late PIE-speaking Yamna (and probably to be found among Mycenaeans), so that there can be no more place for ethnic fantasies.

EDIT (28 JUL 2018): Added information on Greece Neolithic and Trypillia samples


Corded Ware culture origins: The Final Frontier


As you can imagine from my latest posts (on kurgan origins and on Sredni Stog), I am right now in the middle of a revision of the Corded Ware culture for my Indo-European demic diffusion model, to see if I can add something new to the draft. And, as you can see, even with ancient DNA on the table, the precise origin of the Corded Ware migrants – in spite of the imaginative efforts of the Copenhagen group to control the narrative – are still unknown.

Corded Ware origins

The main objects of study in Corded Ware origins are necessarily the region where the oldest Corded Ware vessels appeared, Lesser Poland, as well as the adjacent (traditionally considered Proto-Corded Ware regions) Volhynia, Podolia, and upper Dniester river basin. These are some relevant points, continuing where I left the Eneolithic steppe developments (following Szmyt 1999, Rassamakin 1999, Kadrow 2008, Furholt 2014):

Kadrow (2008). Cultural interactions around Carpathians at the beginnings of the 3rd millennium BC: 1 – Globular Amphora culture; 2 – Sofievka group of Trypillia culture; 3 – Funnel Beaker culture; 4 – Baden culture; 5 – Kostolac culture; 6 – Coţofeni culture; 7 – Cernavoda II culture; 8 – Yamnaya culture and Usatovo group of Trypillia culture (apud Kadrow, 2001).
  • More frequent contacts were seen ca. 3500-3000 BC, with an interaction showing multidirectional migrations of larger human groups in the centuries around 3000 BC, involving a significant part of the population of central-east Europe.
  • The easternmost area of the Funnel Beaker culture had become more Baden-like with the expansion of the Baden culture in its western area ca. 3300-2900 BC (with findings up to 2600 BC), and these younger groups with Baden features moved increasingly into the western part of Volhynia.
  • The influence of the neighbouring Trypillian culture is seen in the eastern parts of Volhynia, from ca. 3000 BC, either from a younger phase CII (cf. Troyaniv, Koshilivtsy, Brînzeni, Zhvaniets, or Vychvatintsy) or later groups (cf. Gorodsk, Kasperivtsy, Sofievka, Horodiştea-Folteşti, Usatovo).
  • In the forest-steppe zone, herding and hunting activities intensified, while agricultural traditions were preserved, as shown by the Sofievka, Kasperivtsy, and Gorodsk groups. From the end of the 4th millennium BC mobile parts of the late Trypillian populations moved to the steppe zone, absorbing more and more steppe elements; among others, cord ornamentation (in Vykhvatintsy, Troyaniv, and Gorodsk groups), pottery forms (Vykhvatintsy, which served as prototype for the Thuringian Apmphorae, dispersed along the Dniester river, too), flat burials with bodies in contracted position on the left or right side (Vykhvatintsy, reminding of Polgár culture different male-female position, and later Corded Ware burials, and also Lower Mikhailovka, under a mound without stone constructions). At the end of the Trypillia culture, its agricultural system collapsed completely.
Globular Amphorae culture „exodus” to the Danube Delta: a – Globular Amphorae culture; b – GAC (1), Gorodsk (2), Vykhvatintsy (3) and Usatovo (4) groups of Trypillia culture; c – Coţofeni culture; d – northern border of the late phase of Baden culture;red arrows – direction of Globular Amphora culture expansion; blue arrow – direction of „reflux” of Globular Amphora culture (apud Włodarczak, 2008, with changes).
  • Slash and burn techniques of agriculture – especially those practiced by Trypillian and Funnel Beaker populations – must have intensified effects of natural growth of humidity (ca. 3400-2400), increasing fluvial activities in west Ukrainian river valleys, and increasing deforestation processes, which favoured pastoralism and nomadisation of the settlement system, and a consequent change of the social structure
  • At the same time, Yamna communities expanded along the lower and central Danube to the west, while the populations of the late phase of the Baden culture took the opposite direction and reached as far as Kiev in the north-east, contributing to the culture of the Sofievka group.
  • Globular Amphora communities migrated from the north-west, from eastern Poland, towards the Danube Delta and as far as the Dnieper in the east, destroying the primary structures of the communities in the supposed cradle territories of the Corded Ware culture. These communities found refuge and conditions for further development in south-eastern margin zone of the Funnel Beaker culture territories, penetrating at first the upper parts of the loess uplands like typical Funnel Beaker sites, but on the margins of their range, and also on areas avoided by Funnel Beaker settlement agglomerations. They brought with them the so-called Thuringian amphora up to Lesser Poland, borrowed from the late Trypillian Usatovo group. This resulted in the Złota culture, which eventually gave rise to the A-Amphorae.
Map of territorial ranges of Funnel Beaker Culture (and its settlement concentrations in Lesser Poland), local Tripolyan groups and Corded Ware Culture settlements (■) at the turn of the 4th/3rd millennia BC.

In the end, we are left with this information about the oldest CWC (Furholt 2014):

  • The earliest radiocarbon-dated groups associated with the Corded Ware culture come from new single graves from Jutland in Denmark and Northern Germany, ca. 2900 BC. This Early Single Grave culture is associated with the appearance of individual graves (some time after the decline of the megalithic constructions), composed of a small round barrow and a new gender-differentiated burial practice emphasising male individuals orientated west-east (with regional exceptions), combined with the internment with new local battle-axe types (A-Axe). However, there is no single type of burial or burial custom in Corded Ware:
    • In southern Sweden the prevailing orientation is north-east – south-west, and south-north, contrary to the supposed rule male individuals are regularly deposited on their left and females on their right side.
    • In the Danish Isles and north-eastern Germany, the Final Neolithic / Single Grave Period is characterized by a majority of megalithic graves, with only some single graves from typical barrows. In south Germany, west-east and collective burials prevail, while in Switzerland no graves are found.
    • In Kujawia (south-eastern Poland), Hesse (Germany), or the Baltic, west-east orientation and gender differentiation cannot be proven statistically.
Furholt (2014). Map of the Corded Ware regions of central Europe. The dark shading indicates those regions where Corded Ware burial rituals are present regularly
  • The oldest Corded Ware vessels (the A-Amphorae, which define the A-Horizon of the CWC) come probably from the Złota (or a related) group in Lesser Poland, where a mixed archaeological culture connecting Funnel Beaker, Baden, Globular Amphorae and Corded Ware appears ca. 2900-2600 BC. No cultural (typological) break is seen between earlier Globular Amphorae and the first Corded Ware Amphorae, but rather a continuum of traits and characteristics among the recovered vessels. This strengthens the connection of Corded Ware with Globular Amphorae peoples. The A-horizon expanded thus probably from Lesser Poland ca. 2800-2600, as seen in local contexts.
  • And of course we have a third way of defining Corded Ware individuals, which is the presence of herding, and thus a transition from hunter-gatherers to agropastoralists. This is how some Baltic Late Neolithic individuals with no archaeological data have been classified as members of the Corded Ware culture: Even though no cultural remains were extracted with the two ‘outlier’ individuals, their haplogroup and ancestry point to a direct origin in or around the steppe and forest-steppe region (yes, that risks circular reasoning).
Correspondence analysis of amphorae from the Złota-graveyards reveals that there is no typological break between Globular Amphorae and Corded Ware Amphorae, including ‘Strichbündelamphorae’ (after Furholt 2008)

Corded Ware peoples in genetics

So, no clear origin of Corded Ware migrants, a lot of data pointing to intense migrations and interaction among GAC, Trypillia and the western steppe population (remember Kristiansen’s ‘long-lasting GAC-CWC connection’, now ignored to favour their Yamnaya admixture™ concept), and also three ways of defining Corded Ware culture…

Maybe genetics can help:

Ukraine Neolithic cultures – mainly from Dereivka – show haplogroups R1b-V88, R1a1, and R1b-L754 (xP297, xM269), which is similar to the haplogroup distribution found in Ukraine Mesolithic, but apparently with an expanding group marked by haplogroup I2a2a1b1 (possibly I2a2a1b1b).

The first thing that stands out about Ukraine Eneolithic samples is that only two of them can be said to be really Ukraine Eneolithic (i.e. from “Sredni Stog”-related groups):

  • I5876 (Y-DNA R1a-Z93(Y3+), mtDNA U5a2a), from Alexandria, 4045-3974 calBCE (5215±20BP, PSUAMS-2832)
  • I4110 (mtDN AJ2b1), from Dereivka, 3634-3377 calBCE (4725±25 BP, UCIAMS-186349), J2b1

The other two samples are quite late, and in fact one of them is clearly too late (maybe from the Catacomb culture):

  • I5882 (mtDNA U5a2a), from Dereivka, 3264-2929 calBCE (4420±20BP, PSUAMS-2826)
  • I3499 (Y-DNA R1b-Z2103, mtDNA T2e), from Dereivka, 2890-2696 calBCE (4195±20BP, PSUAMS-2828)

Corded Ware samples from Mittnik et al. (2018) offer very wide radiocarbon dates, so it is unclear which of them may be the oldest one. Most of them cluster closely to the older Ukraine Eneolithic sample I5876, but also to later steppe_MLBA samples i.e. Sintashta, Potapovka, and especially Srubna and Andronovo). This points to a genetic continuity from Pre-Corded Ware to Classic and late Corded Ware peoples. Therefore, much like Khvalynsk-Yamna and apparently many other Neolithic cultures, these peoples did not really admix; at least not with the male population.

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).

Lucky for us, even though the culture remains undefined, haplogroup R1a-Z645 seems like a unifying trait, as I said long ago, so we only have to wait for more samples to trace their origin. Nevertheless, it is clear that Corded Ware may not have been as genetically homogeneous as Khvalynsk, Yamna and Yamna-related cultures, further supporting its archaeological complexity:

  • Jagodno1 and Jagodno2 (Silesia), dated ca. 2800 BC, show haplogroup G? and I/J? – compatible with an origin of CWC in common with Trypillia (which shows 3 samples of haplogroup G2a2b2a, and one E) and Ukraine Neolithic (showing the expansion of I2a2a1b1 subclades).
  • I7272, from Brandýsek (Czech Republic), dated ca. 2900-2200 BC shows haplogroup I2a2a2 (compatible with an origin in Ukraine Neolithic peoples – this haplogroup is also found in Yamna Kalmykia and in the Yamna Bulgaria outlier, i.e. late western samples from the Early Yamna culture).

NOTE. This precise subclade is only present to date in Chalcolithic samples from Iberia, which points (possibly like the Esperstedt family) to local Central European haplogroups integrated in a mixed Proto-Corded Ware population. The upper subclade I2a2a is found in Neolithic samples from Iberia, the British Isles, Hungary (Koros EN, ALPc), and also south-east European Mesolithic and Neolithic samples.

  • RISE1, from Oblaczkowo (Greater Poland), ca. 2865-2578 BC, shows haplogroup R1b1.
  • The Esperstedt family samples have been analysed as R1a-M417 (xZ645), although the supposed ‘xZ645’ has not been confirmed – not even in the risky new Y-calls from Wang et al. (2018) supplementary materials.
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

Maybe this heterogeneity is a problem of better defining the culture, but from what we can see the oldest CWC regions and the unifying ‘Corded Ware province’ – formed after ca. 2700 BC by Jutland and Northern Germany, the Netherlands, Saale, Bohemia, Austria and the Upper Danube regions – are for the moment not the most genetically homogeneous groups.

Homogeneity comes later – which we may tentatively identify with the expansion of the A-horizon from the northern Dnieper-Dniester and Lesser Poland area – , as seen around the Baltic (like the Battle Axe culture) with R1a-Z283 subclades, and around Sintashta (i.e. probably Abashevo – Balanovo) with R1a-Z93 subclades, which is compatible with the late spread of different Z645 groups (and potentially a unifying language) .