Expansion of haplogroup G2a in Anatolia possibly associated with the Mature Aceramic period


Preprint Late Pleistocene human genome suggests a local origin for the first farmers of central Anatolia, by Feldman et al. bioRxiv (2018).

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

Anatolian hunter-gatherers experienced climatic changes during the last glaciation and inhabited a region that connects Europe to the Near East. However, interactions between Anatolia and Southeastern Europe in the later Upper Palaeolithic/Epipalaeolithic are so far not well documented archaeologically. Interestingly, a previous genomic study showed that present-day Near-Easterners share more alleles with European hunter-gatherers younger than 14,000 BP (‘Later European HG’) than with earlier ones (‘Earlier European HG’). With ancient genomic data available, we could directly compare the Near-Eastern hunter-gatherers (AHG and Natufian) with the European ones. As is the case for present-day Near-Easterners, the Near-Eastern hunter-gatherers share more alleles with the Later European HG than with the Earlier European HG, shown by the significantly positive statistic D(Later European HG, Earlier European HG; AHG/Natufian, Mbuti). Among the Later European HG, recently reported Mesolithic hunter-gatherers from the Balkan peninsula, which geographically connects Anatolia and central Europe (‘Iron Gates HG’), are genetically closer to AHG when compared to all the other European hunter-gatherers, as shown in the significantly positive statistic D(Iron_Gates_HG, European hunter-gatherers; AHG, Mbuti/Altai). Iron Gates HG are followed by Epigravettian and Mesolithic individuals from Italy and France (Villabruna and Ranchot respectively) as the next two European hunter-gatherers genetically closest to AHG. Iron Gates HG have been suggested to be genetically intermediate between WHG and eastern European hunter-gatherers (EHG) with an additional unknown ancestral component.

Ancient genomes (marked with color-filled symbols) projected onto the principal components 5 computed from present-day west Eurasians (grey circles) (fig. S4). The geographic location of each ancient group is marked in (A). Ancient individuals newly reported in this study are additionally marked with a black dot inside the symbol

We find that Iron Gates HG can be modeled as a three-way mixture of Near-Eastern hunter-gatherers (25.8 ± 5.0 % AHG or 11.1 ± 2.2 % Natufian), WHG (62.9 ± 7.4 % or 78.0 ± 4.6 % respectively) and EHG (11.3 ± 3.3 % or 10.9 ± 3 % respectively). The affinity detected by the above D-statistic can be explained by gene flow from Near-Eastern hunter-gatherers into the ancestors of Iron Gates or by a gene flow from a population ancestral to Iron Gates into the Near-Eastern hunter-gatherers as well as by a combination of both. To distinguish the direction of the gene flow, we examined the Basal Eurasian ancestry 5 component (α), which is prevalent in the Near East but undetectable in European hunter-gatherers. Following a published approach, we estimated α to be 24.8 ± 5.5 % in AHG and 38.5 ± 5.0 % in Natufians, consistent with previous estimates for the latter. Under the model of unidirectional gene flow from Anatolia to Europe, 6.4 % is expected for α of Iron Gates by calculating (% AHG in Iron Gates HG) × (α in AHG). However, Iron Gates can be modeled without any Basal Eurasian ancestry or with a non-significant proportion of 1.6 ± 2.8 %, suggesting that unidirectional gene flow from the Near East to Europe alone is insufficient to explain the extra affinity between the Iron Gates HG and the Near-Eastern hunter-gatherers. Thus, it is plausible to assume that prior to 15,000 years ago there was either a bidirectional gene flow between populations ancestral to Southeastern Europeans of the early Holocene and Anatolians of the late glacial or a dispersal of Southeastern Europeans into the Near East. Presumably, this Southeastern European ancestral population later spread into central Europe during the post-last-glacial maximum (LGM) period, resulting in the observed late Pleistocene genetic affinity between the Near East and Europe.

Basal Eurasian ancestry proportions (α) as a marker for Near-Eastern gene flow. Mixture proportions inferred by qpAdm for AHG and the Iron Gates HG are schematically represented. The lower schematic shows the expected α in Iron Gates HG under 10 assumption of unidirectional gene flow, inferred from α in the AHG source population. The observed α for Iron Gates HG is considerably smaller than expected thus, the unidirectional gene flow from the Near East to Europe is not sufficient to explain the above affinity.

While ancestry is not always relevant to distinguish certain population movements (see here), especially – as in this case – when there are few samples (thus neither geographically nor chronologically representative) and no previous model to test, it seems that ancestry and Y-DNA show a great degree of continuity in Anatolia since the Palaeolithic until the Neolithic, at least in the sampled regions. C1a2 appears in Europe since ca. 40,000 years ago (viz. Kostenki, Goyet, Vestonice, etc., and later emerges again in the Balkans after the Anatolian Neolithic expansion, probably a resurge of European groups).

The potential transition of a G2a-dominated agricultural society – that is later prevalent in Anatolian and European farmers – may have therefore happened during the Aceramic III period (ca. 8000 BC), a process of haplogroup expansion probably continuing through the early part of the Pottery Neolithic, as the society based on kinship appeared (Rosenberg and Erim-Özdoğan 2011). There is still much to know about the spread of ceramic technology and southwestern Asia domesticate complex, though.


Without a proper geographical sampling, representative of previous and posterior populations, it is impossible to say. But the expansion of R1b-L754 through Anatolia to form part of the Villabruna cluster (and also the Iron Gates HG) seems perfectly possible with this data, although this paper does not help clarify the when or how. We have seen significant changes in ancestry happen within centuries with expanding populations admixing with locals. Palaeolithic sampling – like this one – shows few individuals scattered geographically over thousands of km and chronologically over thousands of years…


Modelling of prehistoric dispersal of rice varieties in India point to a north-western origin


New paper (behind paywall), A tale of two rice varieties: Modelling the prehistoric dispersals of japonica and proto-indica rices, by Silva et al., The Holocene (2018).

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):


Our empirical evidence comes from the Rice Archaeological Database (RAD). The first version of this database was used for a synthesis of rice dispersal by Fuller et al. (2010), a slightly expanded dataset (version 1.1) was used to model the dispersal of rice, land area under wet rice cultivation and associated methane emissions from 5000–1000 BP (Fuller et al., 2011). The present dataset (version 2) was used in a previous analysis of the origins of rice domestication (Silva et al., 2015). The database records sites and chronological phases within sites where rice has been reported, including whether rice was identified from plant macroremains, phytoliths or impressions in ceramics. Ages are recorded as the start and end date of each phase, and a median age of the phase is then used for analysis. Dating is based on radiocarbon evidence (…)

Modelling framework

Our approach expands on previous efforts to model the geographical origins, and subsequent spread, of japonica rice (Silva et al., 2015). The methodology is based on the explicit modelling of dispersal hypotheses using the Fast Marching algorithm, which computes the cost-distance of an expanding front at each point of a discrete lattice or raster from the source(s) of diffusion (Sethian, 1996; Silva and Steele, 2012, 2014). Sites in the RAD database are then queried for their cost-distance, the distance from the source(s) of dispersal along the cost-surface that represents the hypothesis being modelled (see Connolly and Lake, 2006; Douglas, 1994; Silva et al., 2015; Silva and Steele, 2014 for more on this approach) and, together with the site’s dating, used for regression analysis. (…)

Predicted arrival times of the non-shattering rice variety (japonica or the hybrid indica) across southern Asia based on best-fitting model H2. Included are also sites with known presence of non-shattering spikelet bases (see text).

Model and results

The ‘Inner Asia Mountain Corridor’ hypothesis (H2) therefore predicts japonica rice to arrive first in northwest India via a route that starts in the Yellow river valley, travels west via the well-known Hexi corridor, then just south of the Inner Asian Mountains and thence to India.

The results also show that the addition of the Inner Asia Mountain Corridor significantly improves the model’s fit to the data, particularly model H2 where rice is introduced to the Indian subcontinent exclusively via a trade route that circumvents the Tibetan plateau. This agrees with independent archaeological evidence that sees millets spread westwards along this corridor perhaps as early as 3000 BC (e.g. Boivin et al., 2012; Kohler-Schneider and Canepelle, 2009; Rassamakin, 1999) and certainly by 2500–2000 BC (Frachetti et al., 2010; Spengler 2015; Stevens et al., 2016), that is, in the same time frame as that predicted for rice in model H2. The arrival of western livestock (sheep, cattle) into central China, 2500–2000 BC (Fuller et al., 2011; Yuan and Campbell, 2009), and wheat, ca. 2000 BC (Betts et al., 2014; Flad et al., 2010; Stevens et al., 2016; Zhao, 2015), add evidence for the role of the Inner Asia Mountain Corridor for domesticated species dispersal in this period.


Through a combination of explicit spatial modelling and simulation, we have demonstrated the high likelihood that dispersal of rice via traders in Central Asia introduced japonica rice into South Asia. Only slightly less likely is a combination of introduction via two routes including a Central Asia to Pakistan/northwestern India route as well as introduction to northeastern India directly from China/Myanmar. However, there is a very low probability that current archaeological evidence for rice fits with a single introduction of japonica into India via the northeast. We have also simulated the minimum amount of archaeobotanical sampling from the Neolithic (to Bronze Age) period in the regions of northeastern India and Myanmar that will be necessary to strengthen support for the combined introduction (model H3) or a single Central Asian introduction (model H2).


Cereal cultivation and processing in Trypillian mega-sites


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

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

Archaeological setting at the site of Maidanetske, Ukraine

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

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

Environmental setting at Maidanetske

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

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

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


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


Expansion of domesticated goat echoes expansion of early farmers


New paper (behind paywall) Ancient goat genomes reveal mosaic domestication in the Fertile Crescent, by Daly et al. Science (2018) 361(6397):85-88.

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

Thus, our data favor a process of Near Eastern animal domestication that is dispersed in space and time, rather than radiating from a central core (3, 11). This resonates with archaeozoological evidence for disparate early management strategies from early Anatolian, Iranian, and Levantine Neolithic sites (12, 13). Interestingly, our finding of divergent goat genomes within the Neolithic echoes genetic investigation of early farmers. Northwestern Anatolian and Iranian human Neolithic genomes are also divergent (14–16), which suggests the sharing of techniques rather than large-scale migrations of populations across Southwest Asia in the period of early domestication. Several crop plants also show evidence of parallel domestication processes in the region (17).

PCA affinity (Fig. 2), supported by qpGraph and outgroup f3 analyses, suggests that modern European goats derive from a source close to the western Neolithic; Far Eastern goats derive from early eastern Neolithic domesticates; and African goats have a contribution from the Levant, but in this case with considerable admixture from the other sources (figs. S11, S16, and S17 and tables S26 and 27). The latter may be in part a result of admixture that is discernible in the same analyses extended to ancient genomes within the Fertile Crescent after the Neolithic (figs. S18 and S19 and tables S20, S27, and S31) when the spread of metallurgy and other developments likely resulted in an expansion of inter-regional trade networks and livestock movement.

Maximumlikelihood phylogeny and geographical distributions of ancient mtDNA haplogroups. (A) A phylogeny placing ancient whole mtDNA sequences in the context of known haplogroups. Symbols denoting individuals are colored by clade membership; shape indicates archaeological period (see key). Unlabeled nodes are modern bezoar and outgroup sequence (Nubian ibex) added for reference.We define haplogroup T as the sister branch to the West Caucasian tur (9). (B and C) Geographical distributions of haplogroups show early highly structured diversity in the Neolithic period (B) followed by collapse of structure in succeeding periods (C).We delineate the tiled maps at 7250 to 6950 BP, a period >bracketing both our earliest Chalcolithic sequence (24, Mianroud) and latest Neolithic (6, Aşağı Pınar). Numbered archaeological sites also include Direkli Cave (8), Abu Ghosh (9), ‘Ain Ghazal (10), and Hovk-1 Cave (11) (table S1) (9).

Our results imply a domestication process carried out by humans in dispersed, divergent, but communicating communities across the Fertile Crescent who selected animals in early millennia, including for pigmentation, the most visible of domestic traits.


Improving environmental conditions favoured higher local population density, which favoured domestication


New paper (behind paywall) Hindcasting global population densities reveals forces enabling the origin of agriculture, by Kavanagh et al., Nature Human Behaviour (2018)

Abstract (emphasis mine):

The development and spread of agriculture changed fundamental characteristics of human societies1,2,3. However, the degree to which environmental and social conditions enabled the origins of agriculture remains contested4,5,6. We test three hypothesized links between the environment, population density and the origins of plant and animal domestication, a prerequisite for agriculture: (1) domestication arose as environmental conditions improved and population densities increased7 (surplus hypothesis); (2) populations needed domestication to overcome deteriorating environmental conditions (necessity hypothesis)8,9; (3) factors promoting domestication were distinct in each location10 (regional uniqueness hypothesis). We overcome previous data limitations with a statistical model, in which environmental, geographic and cultural variables capture 77% of the variation in population density among 220 foraging societies worldwide. We use this model to hindcast potential population densities across the globe from 21,000 to 4,000 years before present. Despite the timing of domestication varying by thousands of years, we show that improving environmental conditions favoured higher local population densities during periods when domestication arose in every known agricultural origin centre. Our results uncover a common, global factor that facilitated one of humanity’s most significant innovations and demonstrate that modelling ancestral demographic changes can illuminate major events deep in human history.

Path diagram for piecewise-SEM exploring the effects of environmental and cultural variables on population densities of foraging societies. Measured variables are represented by the large boxes and R2 GLMM values (see Methods) are provided for response variables. n = 220. Red arrows depict negative relationships among variables, black arrows positive relationships, and dashed grey arrows depict non-significant paths (P ≥ 0.05). Standardized coefficients are presented for all paths (small boxes) and arrow widths are scaled to reflect the magnitude of path coefficients.

Interesting excerpts:

(…) our results are consistent with the surplus hypothesis, which suggests that improving environmental conditions and the potential for increased population density may have facilitated the domestication of plants and animals in agricultural origin centres4,7 (Fig. 3). Several factors may explain the links between environmental conditions, potential population density and the origin of domestication. For one, rates of innovation may scale positively with the number of potential innovators13,14. In turn, the likelihood of domestication innovations may have increased in environments that could support increasingly higher densities of foraging people.

In addition, foraging societies may have become more sedentary to take advantage of locally abundant resources, some of which were later domesticated35. Our results indicate that residential mobility scales negatively with population density in foraging societies (Fig. 1). Therefore, increasingly sedentary lifestyles may have contributed further to increases in population density and the potential for innovation. Increases in the productivity of wild progenitors of important domesticates may have also facilitated growing population densities and the viability of cultivation for food production15,16.

Predictions of potential population density for foragers. a–c, Predicted population densities at 4,000 (a), 10,000 (b) and 21,000 (c) YBP. Blue hues depict potential population densities below the median population density of observed foraging societies, and red hues depict potential population densities above the median. The second red hue and above are greater than the mean population density of observed foraging societies. Note the increase in area, through time, with potential population densities greater than the mean of observed foraging societies (number of 0.5° × 0.5° cells: 21,000 YBP = 3,027; 4,000 YBP = 4,673). For example, a notable increase in the number of red cells in the Sudanic savannah and Ganges of East India (Northeast India) between panels c and a.

It is also possible that improving environmental conditions may have resulted in a situation where necessity drove the origins of domestication. For example, population densities may have increased in foraging societies that occupied productive, coastal areas, causing an outflow of groups into regions with less ideal conditions where the cultivation of plants and animals was required to secure adequate food resources6,17,18. Our results cannot support, or refute, the possible influence the outflow of people from hospitable locations to less ideal environments may have played. A detailed understanding of the movements of ancient populations is required for more rigorous testing of the role that forced habitation of marginal environments may have played in the origins of domestication at particular sites.

See also:

FADS1 and the timing of human adaptation to agriculture


Open access FADS1 and the timing of human adaptation to agriculture, by Sara Mathieson & Iain Mathieson, bioRxiv (2018).


Variation at the FADS1/FADS2 gene cluster is functionally associated with differences in lipid metabolism and is often hypothesized to reflect adaptation to an agricultural diet. Here, we test the evidence for this relationship using both modern and ancient DNA data. We document pre-out-of-Africa selection for both the derived and ancestral FADS1 alleles and show that almost all the inhabitants of Europe carried the ancestral allele until the derived allele was introduced approximately 8,500 years ago by Early Neolithic farming populations. However, we also show that it was not under strong selection in these populations. Further, we find that this allele, and other proposed agricultural adaptations including variants at LCT/MCM6, SLC22A4 and NAT2, were not strongly selected until the Bronze Age, 2,000-4,000 years ago. Similarly, increased copy number variation at the salivary amylase gene AMY1 is not linked to the development of agriculture although in this case, the putative adaptation precedes the agricultural transition. Our analysis shows that selection at the FADS locus was not tightly linked to the development of agriculture. Further, it suggests that the strongest signals of recent human adaptation may not have been driven by the agricultural transition but by more recent changes in environment or by increased efficiency of selection due to increases in effective population size.

Interesting excerpt for the steppe-related expansion:

Allele frequency trajectories for other putative agricultural adaptation variants. As in Figure 2C, estimated allele frequency trajectories and selection coefficients in different ancient European populations. Significant selection coefficients are labelled.

In the case of FADS1 and all the other examples we investigated, the proposed agricultural adaption was either not temporally linked with agriculture or showed no evidence of selection in agricultural populations. Instead, most of the variants with any evidence of selection were only strongly selected at some point between the Bronze Age and the present day, that is, in a period starting 2000-4000 BP and continuing until the present. This time period is one in which there is relatively limited ancient DNA data, and so we are unable to determine the timing of selection any more accurately. Future research should address the question of why this recent time period saw the most rapid changes in apparently diet associated genes. One plausible hypothesis is that the change in environment at this time was actually more dramatic than the earlier change associated with agriculture. Another is that effective population sizes were so small before this time that selection did not operate efficiently on variants with small selection coefficients. For example, analysis of present-day genomes from the United Kingdom suggests that effective population size increased by a factor of 100-1000 in the past 4500 years (Browning and Browning 2015). Ancient effective population sizes less that 104 would suggest that those populations would not be able to efficiently select for variants with selection coefficients on the order of 10-4 or smaller. Larger ancient DNA datasets from the past 4,000 years will likely resolve this question.

This complexity of the reasons for selection reminded me of the comment by Narasimhan on lactase persistence expanding with steppe populations into Central Asia (based on data of the paper where he is the first author):

I always thought that to argue for natural selection in humans (viz. skin color, lactase persistence, etc.) was possible for archaic groups over tens of thousands of years, but that more recent selections would be very difficult to prove, in so far as historical population expansions involve more ‘artificial’ (i.e. man-made or man-caused) societal changes.

NOTE. I am probably more inclined to think about regional outbreaks (especially of new diseases) as one of the few potential short-term selection mechanisms in historical societies, because of their potential to create sudden bottlenecks of better fitted survivors.

I think recent works like these are showing a mixed situation, where maybe some traits were strongly selected for environmental reasons; but most of the time they were probably – like, say, Y-DNA haplogroup bottlenecks in Europe after the steppe-related expansions – due mostly to chance.

Agricultural origins on the Anatolian plateau


New paper (behind paywall) Agricultural origins on the Anatolian plateau, by Baird et al. PNAS (2018), published ahead of print (March 19).

Abstract (emphasis mine):

This paper explores the explanations for, and consequences of, the early appearance of food production outside the Fertile Crescent of Southwest Asia, where it originated in the 10th/9th millennia cal BC. We present evidence that cultivation appeared in Central Anatolia through adoption by indigenous foragers in the mid ninth millennium cal BC, but also demonstrate that uptake was not uniform, and that some communities chose to actively disregard cultivation. Adoption of cultivation was accompanied by experimentation with sheep/goat herding in a system of low-level food production that was integrated into foraging practices rather than used to replace them. Furthermore, rather than being a short-lived transitional state, low-level food production formed part of a subsistence strategy that lasted for several centuries, although its adoption had significant long-term social consequences for the adopting community at Boncuklu. Material continuities suggest that Boncuklu’s community was ancestral to that seen at the much larger settlement of Çatalhöyük East from 7100 cal BC, by which time a modest involvement with food production had been transformed into a major commitment to mixed farming, allowing the sustenance of a very large sedentary community. This evidence from Central Anatolia illustrates that polarized positions explaining the early spread of farming, opposing indigenous adoption to farmer colonization, are unsuited to understanding local sequences of subsistence and related social change. We go beyond identifying the mechanisms for the spread of farming by investigating the shorter- and longer-term implications of rejecting or adopting farming practices.

Map of central Anatolia showing the principal sites mentioned in the text.

Interesting excerpts:

The persistence of foraging and rejection of farming at Pınarbaşı is also worthy of further consideration. Pınarbaşı’s longevity as a settlement locale in the early Holocene appears to have been based on hunting of wild mammals, wetland exploitation, and significant focus on nut exploitation, all afforded by its ecotonal setting between the hills, plain, and wetland. Perhaps this existing diversity, including nutritious storable plant resources, was a key factor in a lack of interest in adopting cultivation. Another factor may have been a conscious desire to maintain traditional identities and long-standing distinctions with other communities, in part reflected in its particular way of life and its specific connections with particular elements in landscape, for example the almond and terebinth woodlands whose harvests underwrote the continuity of the Pınarbaşı settlement.

The variability in response to the possibilities of early food production in a relatively small geographical area demonstrated here is notable and provides an example useful in evaluating the spread of farming in other regions. It shows the possible role of indigenous foragers, the potential patchwork and diffuse nature of the spread of farming, the lack of homogeneity likely in the communities caught up in the process, the probability of significant continuities in local cultural traditions within the process, and the potentially long-term stable adaptation offered by lowlevel food production. The strength of identities linked to exploitation of particular foods and particular parts of the landscape may have been a major factor contributing to rejection or adoption of food production by indigenous foragers.

The results are also relevant for understanding the processes that underpinned the initial development of farming within the Fertile Crescent itself: that is, the region in which the wild progenitors of the Old World founder crops and stock animals are found. Recent research has rejected the notion of a core area for farming’s first appearance in southwest Asia and demonstrated that farming developed in diverse ways over the Fertile Crescent zone from the southern Levant to the Zagros, very analogous to the situation just described for Central Anatolia (2). Cultivation, herding, and domestication developed in that region, and it seems inescapable that exchange of crops and herded animals occurred between communities (2), involving a spread of farming within the Fertile Crescent, leading eventually to the Neolithic farming package that was so similar across the region and which spread into Europe (5). Central Anatolia was clearly linked to the Fertile Crescent, with significant evidence of exchange and some shared cultural traditions from at least the Epipaleolithic (22). The evidence presented here demonstrates very clearly the movement of crops between settlements and regions in early phases of the Neolithic through exchange, and thus allows us to identify episodes of crop exchange that were probably taking place within the Fertile Crescent itself, but are difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish due to the presence of crop progenitors across much of the region.

A very interesting read in combination with 14C-radiometric data and climatic conditions showing potential triggers of dispersal of Neolithic lifeways from Turkey to Southeast Europe, e.g. Dispersal of Neolithic Lifeways: Absolute Chronology and Rapid Climate Change in Central and West Anatolia, by Lee Clare & Bernhard Weninger, in The Neolithic in Turkey, Vol.6 (2014), Edited by Mehmet Özdogan, Nezih Basgelen, Peter Kuniholm.

The Late Neolithic (6600-6000 cal. BC) witnesses the rapid westward dispersal of Neolithic communities, apparently reaching the Aegean in the space of a very short time (ca. 6600 cal. BC). This process is linked to the demand of individuals, groups, and communities for less vulnerable conditions in the face of climate fluctuation associated with RCC. Coastal areas not only offered respite from more frequently occurring physical impacts (extreme winters and high drought risk) in inner Anatolia, they may also have provided refuge for weaker (more vulnerable) social groups (…).

Featured image, from the latter: “In the Early Pottery Neolithic (7000-6600 cal. BC) there occurs a clear break with precedeing (PPN) traditions, attested by abandonment and decreasing size of settlements, albeit that evidence for migration of groups westwards towards the Aegean is still ambiguous (black arrows: human migrations; white arrows: Anatolian obsidian)”

See also:

Recent archaeological finds near Indo-European and Uralic homelands


The latest publication of Documenta Praehistorica, vol. 44 (2017) is a delight for anyone interested in Indo-European and Uralic studies, whether from a linguistic, archaeological, anthropological, or genetic point of view. Articles are freely downloadable from the website.

The following is a selection of articles I deem more interesting, but almost all are.

On the Corded Ware culture

Do 14C dates always turn into an absolute chronology? The case of the Middle Neolithic in western Lesser Poland, by Marek Novak:

In the late 5th, 4th, and early 3rd millennia BC, different archaeological units are visible in western Lesser Poland. According to traditional views, local branches of the late Lengyel-Polgár complex, the Funnel Beaker culture, and the Baden phenomena overlap chronologically in great measure. The results of investigations done with new radiocarbon dating show that in some cases a discrete mode and linearity of cultural transformation is recommended. The study demonstrates that extreme approaches in which we either approve only those dates which fit with our concepts or accept with no reservation all dates as such are incorrect.

Territory of western Lesser Poland and the main archaeological units in the late 5th, 4th and early 3rd millennia BC: 1 borders of the area discussed in the paper; 2 sites of the Lublin-Volhynian culture; 3 the Wyciąże-Złotniki group; 4 the Funnel Beaker culture (a dense settlement typical of ‘loess’ upland; b more dispersed settlement typical of foothills, alluvial plains/basins and ‘jurassic zones; c highly dispersed settlement typical mainly of mountainous zone); 5 sites with the Wyciąże/Niedźwiedź materials; 6 the Baden culture, 7 the Beaker/Baden assemblages; 8 Corded Ware culture (a relatively dense settlement typical mainly of ‘loess’ upland; b highly dispersed settlement typical of other ecological zones).

This article brings new data against David Anthony’s new IECWT model, suggesting later dates for the Corded Ware Culture group of Lesser Poland, and thus an earlier origin of their nomadic herders in the steppe, forest-steppe or forest zone to the east and south-east.

On the Pontic-Caspian steppe and forest-steppe

First isotope analysis and new radiocarbon dating of Trypillia (Tripolye) farmers from Verteba Cave, Bilche Zolote, Ukraine, by Lillie et al.:

This paper presents an analysis of human and animal remains from Verteba cave, near Bilche Zolote, western Ukraine. This study was prompted by a paucity of direct dates on this material and the need to contextualise these remains in relation both to the transition from hunting and gathering to farming in Ukraine, and their specific place within the Cucuteni-Trypillia culture sequence. The new absolute dating places the remains studied here in Trypillia stages BII/CI at c. 3900–3500 cal BC, with one individual now redated to the Early Scythian period. As such, these finds are even more exceptional than previously assumed, being some of the earliest discovered for this culture. The isotope analyses indicate that these individuals are local to the region, with the dietary stable isotopes indicating a C3 terrestrial diet for the Trypillia-period humans analysed. The Scythian period individual has δ13C ratios indicative of either c. 50% marine, or alternatively C4 plant inputs into the diet, despite δ18O and 87Sr/86Sr ratios that are comparable to the other individuals studied.

Map showing the extent of the Trypillia culture of Ukraine and
neighbouring countries, key sites and the location of Verteba Cave ©WAERC
University of Hull.

New data on one of the cultures that was very likely a close neighbour of Corded Ware peoples.

Chronology of Neolithic sites in the forest-steppe area of the Don River, by Smolyaninov, Skorobogatov, and Surkov:

The first ceramic complexes appeared in the forest-steppe and forest zones of Eastern Europe at the end of the 7th–5th millennium BC. They existed until the first half of the 5th millennium BC in the Don River basin. All these first ceramic traditions had common features and also local particularities. Regional cultures, distinguished nowadays on the basis of these local particularities, include the Karamyshevskaya and Middle Don cultures, as well pottery of a new type found at sites on the Middle Don River (Cherkasskaya 3 and Cherkasskaya 5 sites).

Radiocarbon chronology of Neolithic in the Lower Don and North-eastern Azov Sea, by Tsybryi et al.:

So far, four different cultural-chronological groups of sites have been identified in the North-eastern Azov Sea and Lower Don River areas, including sites of the Rakushechny Yar culture, Matveev Kurgan culture, Donets culture, and sites of the Caspian-Ciscaucasian region. An analysis of all known dates, as well as the contexts and stratigraphies of the sites, allowed us to form a new perspective of the chronology of southern Russia, to revise the chronology of this region, and change the concept of unreliability of dates for this area.

On the Forest Zone

The past in the past in the mortuary practice of hunter-gatherers: an example from a settlement and cemetery site in northern Latvia, by Lars Olof Georg Larsson:

During excavations of burials at Zvejnieki in northern Latvia, it transpired that the grave fill included occupation material brought to the grave. It contained tools of a type that could not be contemporaneous with the grave. This is confirmed by the dating of bone tools and other bone finds in the fill. The fill was taken from an older settlement site a short distance away. The fill also included skeletal parts of humans whose graves had been destroyed with the digging of the grave for a double burial. This provides an interesting view of the mortuary practice of hunter-gatherers and an insight into the use of the past in the past.

The Zvejnieki site with the location of the burial ground, the settlements,
the farmhouse on the site and the gravel pit.

I keep expecting that more information is given regarding the important sample labelled “Late Neolithic/Corded Ware Culture” from Zvejnieki ca. 2880 BC. It seems too early for the Corded Ware culture in the region, clusters too close to steppe samples, and the information on it from genetic papers is so scarce… My ad hoc explanation of these data – as a product of recent exogamy from Eastern Yamna -, while possibly enough to explain one sample, is not satisfying without further data, so we need to have more samples from the region to have a clearer picture of what happened there and when. Another possibility is a new classification of the sample, compatible with later migration events (a later date of the sample would explain a lot). Anyway, this article won’t reveal anything about this matter, but is interesting for other, earlier samples from the cemetery.

Other articles on the Forest Zone include:

Other articles include studies on Neolithic sites, potentially relevant for Indo-European migrations, such as Anatolia, Greece, southern or south-eastern sites in Europe. Check it out!