Early Medieval Alemannic graveyard shows diverse cultural and genetic makeup


Open access Ancient genome-wide analyses infer kinship structure in an Early Medieval Alemannic graveyard, by O’Sullivan et al., Science (2018) 4(9):eaao1262

Interesting excerpts:


The Alemanni were a confederation of Germanic tribes that inhabited the eastern Upper Rhine basin and surrounding region (Fig. 1) (1). Roman ethnographers mentioned the Alemanni, but historical records from the 3rd to the 6th century CE contain no regular description of these tribes (2). The upheaval that occurred during the European Migration Period (Völkerwanderung) partly explains the interchangeability of nomenclature with the contemporaneous Suebi people of the same region and periods of geographic discontinuity in the historical record (3). This diverse nomenclature reflects centuries of interactions between Romans and other Germanic groups such as the Franks, Burgundians, Thuringians, Saxons, and Bavarians. With the defeat of the Alemanni by Clovis I of the Franks in 497 CE, Alamannia became a subsumed Duchy of the Merovingian Kingdom. This event solidified the naming of the inhabitants of this region as Alemanni (3). From the 5th to the 8th century CE, integration between the Franks and the Alemanni was reflected by changed burial practices, with households (familia) buried in richly furnished graves (Adelsgrablege) (4). The splendor of these Adelsgräber served to demonstrate the kinship structure, wealth, and status of the familia and also the power of the Franks (Personenverbandstaaten, a system of power based on personal relations rather than fixed territory). Because inclusion in familia during the Merovingian period was not necessarily based on inheritance or provenance, debate continues on the symbolism of these burial rites (5).

The 7th century CE Alemannic burial site at Niederstotzingen in southern Germany, used circa 580 to 630 CE, represents the best-preserved example of such an Alemannic Adelsgrablege. (…)


Strontium and oxygen isotope data from the enamel showed that most individuals are local rather than migrants (Table 1, table S2, and fig. S2), except for individuals 10 and 3B. (…)

Analysis of uniparental markers

mtDNA haplogroups were successfully assigned to all 13 individuals (Table 1). Notably, there are three groups of individuals that share, among the assigned positions, identical haplotypes: individuals 4, 9, and 12B in haplogroup X2b4; individuals 1 and 3A in haplogroup K1a; and individuals 2 and 5 in haplogroup K1a1b2a1a.

Most individuals belong to the R1b haplogroup (individuals 1, 3A, 3C, 6, 9, 12A, 12B, and 12C), which has the highest frequency (>70%) in modern western European populations (20). Five individuals (1, 3A, 9, 12B, and 12C) share the same marker (Z319) defining haplogroup R1b1a2a1a1c2b2b1a1 [=ISOGG R1b1a1a2a1a1c2b2b1a1a] (…) individuals 1, 3A, and 6 have R1b lineage and marker Z347 (R1b1a2a1a1c2b2b) [=ISOGG R1b1a1a2a1a1c2b2b], which belongs to the same male ancestral lineage as marker Z319 [i.e. all R1b-U106]. Individual 3B instead carries NRY haplogroup G2a2b1, which is rare in modern north, west, and east European populations (<5%), only reaching common abundance in the Caucasus (>70%), southern Europe, and the Near East (10 to 15%)

Genome-wide capture

PCA plot of Niederstotzingen individuals, modern west Eurasians, and selected ancient Europeans. Genome-wide ancient data were projected against modern west Eurasian populations. Colors on PCA indicate more general Eurasian geographic boundaries than countries: dark green, Caucasus; bright green, eastern Europe; yellow, Sardinia and Canary Islands; bright blue, Jewish diaspora; bright purple, western and central Europe; red, southern Europe; dark brown, west Asia; light purple, Spain; dark purple, Russia; pale green, Middle East; orange, North Africa. The transparent circles serve to highlight the genetic overlap between regions of interest.

Genomically, the individuals buried at Niederstotzingen can be split into two groups: Niederstotzingen North (1, 3A, 6, 9, 12B, and 12C), who have genomic signals that most resemble modern northern and eastern European populations, and Niederstotzingen South (3B and 3C), who most resemble modern-day Mediterraneans, albeit with recent common ancestry to other Europeans. Niederstotzingen North is composed of those buried with identifiable artifacts: Lombards (individual 6), Franks (individual 9), and Byzantines (individuals 3A and 12B), all of whom have strontium and oxygen isotope signals that support local provenance (fig. S2) (8). Just two individuals, 3B (Niederstotzingen South) and 10 (no sufficient autosomal data, with R1 Y-haplogroup), have nonlocal strontium isotope signals. The δ18O values suggest that individuals 10 and 3B may have originated from a higher-altitude region, possibly the Swiss-German Alpine foothills (8). Combined with the genome affinity of individual 3B to southern Europeans, these data provide direct evidence for incoming mobility at the site and for contact that went beyond exchange of grave goods (4). Familia had holdings across the Merovingian Kingdom and traveled long distances to maintain them; these holdings could have extended from northern Italy to the North Sea. Nobles displayed and accrued power by recruiting outside individuals into the household as part of their traveling retinue. Extravagant burial rites of these familia are symbolic evidence of the Frankish power systems based on people Personenverbandstaaten imposed from the 5th until the 8th century CE (4). The assignment of grave goods and the burial pattern do not follow any apparent pattern with respect to genetic origin or provenance, suggesting that relatedness and fellowship were held in equal regard at this burial.


Both kinship estimates show first-degree relatedness for pairs 1/3A, 1/6, 1/9, 3A/9, and 9/12B and second-degree relatedness for 1/12B, 3A/6, 3A/12B, and 6/9. Except for 12C, all of the Niederstotzingen North individuals are detectably and closely related. The Niederstotzingen South individuals are not detectably related to each other or any other members of the cohort. (…)

We demonstrated that five of the individuals (1, 3A, 6, 9, and 12B) were kin to at least second degree (Fig. 3 and tables S15 and S16); four of these were buried with distinguishable grave goods (discussed above and in fig. S1). These data show that at Niederstotzingen, at least in death, diverse cultural affiliations could be appropriated even within the same family across just two generations. This finding is somewhat similar to the burial of the Frankish King Childeric in the 5th century CE with a combination of Frankish and Byzantine grave goods that symbolized both his provenance and military service to the Romans (4). The burial of three unrelated individuals (3B, 3C, and 12C) in multiple graves beside the rest of the cohort would imply that this Alemannic group buried their dead based on a combination of familial ties and fellowship. One explanation could be that they were adopted as children from another region to be trained as warriors, which was a common practice at the time; these children were raised with equal regard in the familia (2, 4).

Reconstruction of first- and second-degree relatedness among all related individuals. Bold black lines and blue lines indicate first- and second-degree relatedness, respectively. Dark blue squares are identified males with age-at-death estimates years old (y.o.), mtDNA haplotypes, and NRY haplogroups. Red circles represent unidentified females that passed maternal haplotypes to their offspring. The light square represents one male infant that shares its maternal haplotype with individuals 12B and 9. N.D., not determined.


The 7th century CE burial in Niederstotzingen represents the best-preserved example of an Alemannic Adelsgrablege. The observation that burial of the remains was close to a Roman crossroads, orientated in a considered way, and associated with rich grave goods points to a noble gravesite of an Alemannic familia with external cultural influences. The high percentage of males in the burial site suggests that this site was intended for a ranked warrior group, meaning that the individuals are not representative of the population existing in 7th century CE Alemannia. The kinship estimates show that kinship structure was organized around the familia, which is defined by close association of related and unrelated individuals united for a common purpose. The apparent kinship structure is consistent with the hypothesized Personenverbandstaaten, which was a system by which Merovingian nobles enforced rule in the Duchies of Alemannia, Thuringia, Burgundy, and elsewhere. Beyond the origin of the grave goods, we show isotopic and genetic evidence for contact with communities external to the region and evidence for shared ancestry between northern and southern Europeans. This finding invites debate on the Alemannic power system that may have been highly influenced by mobility and personal relations.

Texts and images distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license.


Y-chromosome mixture in the modern Corsican population shows different migration layers


Open access Prehistoric migrations through the Mediterranean basin shaped Corsican Y-chromosome diversity, by Di Cristofaro et al. PLOS One (2018).

Interesting excerpts:

This study included 321 samples from men throughout Corsica; samples from Provence and Tuscany were added to the cohort. All samples were typed for 92 Y-SNPs, and Y-STRs were also analyzed.

Haplogroup R represented approximately half of the lineages in both Corsican and Tuscan samples (respectively 51.8% and 45.3%) whereas it reached 90% in Provence. Sub-clade R1b1a1a2a1a2b-U152 predominated in North Corsica whereas R1b1a1a2a1a1-U106 was present in South Corsica. Both SNPs display clinal distributions of frequency variation in Europe, the U152 branch being most frequent in Switzerland, Italy, France and Western Poland. Calibrated branch lengths from whole Y chromosome sequencing [44,45] and ancient DNA studies [46] both indicated that R1a and R1b diversification began relatively recently, about 5 Kya, consistent with Bronze Age and Copper Age demographic expansion. TMRCA estimations are concordant with such expansion in Corsica.

Spatial frequency maps for haplogroups with frequencies above 3%, their Y-STR based phylogenetic networks in Corsican populations (Blue: North, Green: West, Orange: South, Black: Center and Purple: East) and their TMRCA (in years, +/- SE).

Haplogroup G reached 21.7% in Corsica and 13.3% in Tuscany. Sub-clade G2a2a1a2-L91 accounted for 11.3% of all haplogroups in Corsica yet was not present in Provence or in Tuscany. Thirty-four out of the 37 G2a2a1a2-L91 displayed a unique Y-STR profile, illustrated by the star-like profile of STR networks (Fig 1). G2a2a1a2-L91 and G2a2a-PF3147(xL91xM286) show their highest frequency in present day Sardinia and southern Corsica compared to low levels from Caucasus to Southern Europe, encompassing the Near and Middle East [21,47–50]. Ancient DNA results from Early and Middle Neolithic samples reported the presence of haplogroup G2a-P15 [51–53], consistent with gene flow from the Mediterranean region during the Neolithic transition. Td expansion time estimated by STR for P15-affiliated chromosomes was estimated to be 15,082+/-2217 years ago [49]. Ötzi, the 5,300-year-old Alpine mummy, was derived for the L91 SNP [21]. A genetic relationship between G haplogroups from Corsica and Sardinia is further supported by DYS19 duplication, reported in North Sardinia [14], and observed in the southern part of the Corsica in 9 out of 37 G2a2a1a2-L91 chromosomes and in 4 out of 5 G2a2a-PF3147(xL91xM286) chromosomes, 3 of which displayed an identical STR profile (S4 Table).

This lineage has a reported coalescent age estimated by whole sequencing in Sardinian samples of about 9,000 years ago. This could reflect common ancestors coming from the Caucasus and moving westward during the Neolithic period [48], whereas their continental counterparts would have been replaced by rapidly expanding populations associated with the Bronze Age [46,54,55]. Estimated TMRCA for L91 lineage in Corsica is 4529 +/- 853 years. G-L497 showed high frequencies in Corsica compared to Provence and Tuscany, and this haplogroup was common in Europe, but rare in Greece, Anatolia and the Middle East. Fifteen out of the 17 Corsican G2a2b2a1a1b-L497 displayed a unique Y-STR profile (S4 Table) with an estimated TMRCA of 6867 +/- 1294 years. Haplogroup G2a2b1-M406, associated with Impressed Ware Neolithic markers, along with J2a1-DYS445 = 6 and J2a1b1-M92 [22,49], had very low levels in Corsica. Conversely, G2a2b2a-P303was highly represented and seemed to be independent of the G2a2b1-M406 marker. The 7 G2a2b2a-P303(xL497xM527) Corsican chromosomes displayed a unique Y-STR profile (S4 Table).

First and second axes of the PCA based on 12 Y-chromosome haplogroup frequencies in 83 west Mediterranean populations.

Haplogroup J, mainly represented by J2a1b-M67(xM92), displayed intermediate frequencies in Corsica compared to Tuscany and Provence. J2a1b-M67(xM92) derived STR network analysis displayed a quite homogeneous profile across the island with an estimated TMRCA of 2381 +/- 449 years (Fig 1) and individuals displaying M67 were peripheral compared to Northwestern Italians (S2 Fig). The haplogroup J2a1-Page55(xM67xM530), characteristic of non-Greek Anatolia [22], was found in the north-west of Corsica. Haplogroup J2a1-DYS445 = 6 was found in the north-west with DYS391 = 10 repeats, and in the far south with DYS391 = 9 repeats, the former was associated with Anatolian Greek samples, whereas the second was found in central Anatolia [22]. The 7 J2b2a-M241 displayed a unique Y-STR profile (S4 Table), they were only detected in the Cap Corse region, this sub-haplogroup shows frequency peaks in both the southern Balkans and northern-central Italy [56] and is associated with expansion from the Near East to the Balkans during Neolithic period [57].

Haplogroup E, mainly represented by E1b1b1a1b1a-V13, displayed intermediate frequencies in Corsica compared to Tuscany and Provence. E1b1b1a1b1a-V13 was thought to have initiated a pan-Mediterranean expansion 7,000 years ago starting from the Balkans [52] and its dispersal to the northern shore of the Mediterranean basin is consistent with the Greek Anatolian expansion to the western Mediterranean [22], characteristic of the region surrounding Alaria, and consistent with the TMRCA estimated in Corsica for this haplogroup. A few E1b1a-V38 chromosomes are also observed in the same regions as V13.


Cogotas I Bronze Age pottery emulated and expanded Bell Beaker decoration


Copying from Sherds. Creativity in Bronze Age Pottery in Central Iberia (1800-1150 BC), by Antonio Blanco-González, In: J. Sofaer (ed.): Considering Creativity Creativity, Knowledge and Practice in Bronze Age Europe. Archaeopress (2018), Oxford: 19-38

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

Several Iberian scholars have referred to stab-and-drag designs in both Bell-Beaker and Bronze Age ceramics (Maluquer de Motes 1956, 180, 196; Fernández-Posse 1982, 137), although these have not always been correctly appraised. In the 1980s it was finally realized that the sherds retrieved at the Boquique Cave should be dated to the Middle-Late Neolithic (4400-3300 BC), and that the same technique was also widely used in the Late Bronze Age (Fernández-Posse 1982, 147-149). Thus, nowadays it is possible to track this technique in inland Iberia at different moments throughout later prehistory (Alday and Moral 2011, 67). The earliest stab-and-drag motifs (Figure 2.2, 1) are, in fact, older than was initially thought (Fernández-Posse 1982); they actually date to the Early Neolithic (5500-4400 BC), contemporary to the Mediterranean Cardial impressed wares (Alday 2009, 135-137). There are also a few sporadic examples of stab-and-drag motifs among Bell-Beaker pottery (2600-2000 BC), such as the Ciempozuelos-style bowl from Las Carolinas (Madrid) (Figure 2.2, 2a) featuring so-called ‘symbolic’ schematic stags drawn by using this technique (Blasco and Baena 1996, 431, Lám. II; Garrido Pena 2000, 108). It is also possible to recognize this technique in a large Beaker from Molino Sanchón II (Zamora) (Abarquero et al. 2012, 206, fig. 190; Guerra-Doce et al. 2011, 812) (Figure 2.2, 2b) and there are other possible cases (e.g. Montero and Rodríguez 2008, 166, Lám. IX). Finally, the widespread use of this technique occurred in the Late Bronze Age (Figure 2.2, 3a & 3b) from c.1450 BC (e.g. Rodríguez Marcos 2007, 362-364; Abarquero 2005).

Analogies between Bell-Beaker and Bronze Age wares

Several Bell-Beaker styles can be discerned in the Iberian Meseta (e.g. Harrison 1977, 55-67; Garrido Pena 2000; 2014). In this subsection attention will be drawn primarily to the most frequent of these variants, the Ciempozuelos style, although more localised similarities can be recognised between the Beaker impressed-comb style and some early Cogotas I pottery. The Ciempozuelos ware (Delibes 1977; Harrison 1977, 19-20; Blasco 1994; Garrido Pena 2000, 116-126; Rodríguez Marcos 2007, 252-256) was widespread throughout the Meseta between 2600-2000 BC, in the same region subsequently occupied by Cogotas I communities (1800-1150 BC) (Fernández-Posse 1998; Abarquero 2005) (Figure 2.1). There is a wide array of resemblances between both pottery assemblages, a point that has been highlighted since the 1920s (e.g. Almagro Basch 1939, 143-144; Maluquer de Motes 1956, 196; Harrison 1977, 20; Jimeno 1984, 117-118).

The Iberian Peninsula and the area of the Cogotas I culture (1800-1150 cal BC). Sites mentioned in the text: 1. Molino Sanchón II (Villafáfila, Zamora); 2. La Horra (El Cerro, Burgos); 3. El Mirador cave (Atapuerca, Burgos); 4. Cueva Maja (Cabrejas del Pinar, Soria); 5. Cueva del Asno (Los Rábanos, Soria); 6. Castilviejo de Yuba (Medinaceli, Soria); 7. Majaladares (Borja, Zaragoza); 8. Cova dels Encantats (Serinyá, Girona); 9. Boquique cave (Plasencia, Cáceres); 10. Cerro de la Cabeza (Ávila); 11. Las Cogotas (Cardeñosa, Ávila); 12. Madrid; 13. Las Carolinas (Madrid); 14. La Indiana (Pinto, Madrid); 15. Llanete de los Moros (Montoro, Córdoba); 16. Peñalosa (Baños de la Encina, Jaén): 17. Cuesta del Negro (Purullena, Granada); 18. Gatas (Turre, Almería); 19. Cabezo Redondo (Villena, Alicante)

The key ornamental traits that define the Ciempozuelos style are also reproduced among Cogotas I ware and are the following:

a) Widespread deployment among the early Cogotas I pottery of the more ubiquitous incised motifs in the Ciempozuelos style: herringbones, spikes and reticulates (Garrido Pena 2000, 119-120, fig. 48, themes 6 and 9; Rodríguez Marcos 2012, 155). During the Middle Bronze Age other less frequent themes are also similar to Bell-Beaker decorations, such as incised triangles filled with lines. Late Bronze Age wares feature the so-called ‘pseudo-Kerbschnitt’ (Rodríguez Marcos 2007, 369) which has striking precedents among Ciempozuelos ware (Harrison 1977, 20; Garrido Pena 2000, 120, fig. 48, theme 12) (Figure 2.3, 1a & 1b).

b) The extensive use of internal rim decoration, almost always deploying chevron motifs. This is ‘a Ciempozuelos leitmotiv’ (Harrison 1977, 20) in the Northern Meseta, where between 30% – 50% of all rims exhibit such a feature (Delibes 1977; Garrido Pena 2000, 163). The decoration of internal rims is even more widespread among Cogotas I vessels (Jimeno 1984; Rodríguez Marcos 2012, 158) (Figure 2.3, 1a).

c) White paste rubbed into the geometric decorations (Delibes 1977; Harrison 1977, 20; Jimeno 1984). Maluquer de Motes (1956, 186) in fact regarded excised and stab-and-drag techniques not as decorations per se, but as a way of anchoring encrusted inlays. He also reported that the bulk of rims in Cogotas I vessels exhibit white accretions (Maluquer de Motes 1956, 192) (Figure 2.3).

In addition, several authors agree on the likeness between the Bell-Beaker impressed-comb style and certain Cogotas I local pottery variants corresponding to its earliest phase (1800-1450 BC) (Garrido Pena 2000, 113-116). This is particularly striking for one micro-style from the western Meseta region, whose ceramics feature numerous impressed-comb motives (e.g. Fabián 2012; Rodríguez Marcos 2012, 158).

1a) Encrusted Beaker carinated bowls with pseudo-excised motifs from La Salmedina (Madrid) (photo: Museo Arqueológico Regional de Madrid) and 1b) from Cuesta de la Reina (Ciempozuelos, Madrid) (photo: Real Academia de la Historia); 2) Late Bronze Age jar featuring checkerboard excised motives with white paste from Pórragos (Bolaños, Valladolid) (photo: Museo de Valladolid).

The relevance of emulated pottery decorations

[1] (…) there are grounds for proffering the view that the key creative mechanism responsible for the resemblances between apparently unrelated pottery assemblages was the emulation of standalone and very apparent decorative traits. It may constitute a good case for horizontal cultural transmission predicated upon iconic resemblances between easily imitated formal traits (Knappett 2010). Instead of spontaneous and autonomous innovations, it is far more compelling to regard these decorative features as interlinked and punctuated ‘way stations along the trails of living beings, moving through a world’ (Ingold and Hallam 2007, 8). No creative act can be regarded as really isolated. Instead it ought to be understood as focusing on the nodes in particular fields of associations (Lohnmann 2010, 216).

[2] Pottery ornamentation in the Cogotas I tradition combined and reinterpreted both local atavistic (e.g. Abarquero 2005, 24-26; Rodríguez Marcos 2007, 357-367) and widespread pan-European ornaments (e.g. Blasco 2001, 225, 2003, 67-68; Abarquero 2012, 98-101). From a semiotic perspective such things transcended large spatio-temporal distances; they were closely associated by iconical shared links in a relational or cognitive space, whereby these entities were co-presented and indirectly recalled and perceived despite being distant (Knappett 2010, 85-86). The locally-rooted biases of these creative quotations can be glimpsed from rare sequences of ceramic productions spanning several generations of potters. For instance, at Majaladares (Borja, Zaragoza) strong analogies arise between Ciempozuelos wares featuring unique decorations in this site and Cogotas I wares from the superimposed layers, exhibiting remarkably similar themes (Harrison 2007, 65-82). Likewise, it is noteworthy that the earliest triangular excisions in Cogotas I wares occurred in the eastern Meseta, where imported Duffaits vessels featuring comparable motifs were circulating from several centuries before.(…)

[3] There is scope for advocating that these pottery decorations cannot be envisaged as a form of irrelevant or mundane aesthetic garnish for the sake of art. Bronze Age potters drew upon a highly meaningful array of esoteric sources and, in so doing, the vessels might have echoed designs betokening genealogical, mythical or parallel worlds, in a kind of dialectical negotiation between self and other (Taussig 1993). The very involvement of ancestors and spiritual forces in making and embellishing a pot is supported by ethnographic evidence (e.g. Crown 2007, 679; Lohnmann 2010, 222) and this also seems plausible in the case of Cogotas I ceramics. These real or imagined beings might be regarded as inspiring sources of creations, whose role is often to legitimize and guarantee the accuracy of the involved knowledge (Lohnmann 2010, 222). In the same vein, the smearing of colored inlays on certain pots ought to be properly understood beyond an aesthetic action of embellishment, as our own rationale prompts us to assume. (…)

[4] Furthermore, this pottery tradition needs to be understood as an effective means of socialization and a key resource in the forging of identities. Decorating certain intricate Cogotas I vessels (Figure 2.2, 3b; Figure 2.4, 3) very likely involved an ostentatious difficulty (Robb and Michelaki 2012, 168; Abarquero 2005, 438) and the proficiency displayed in such tasks may have accrued even moral connotations (Hendon 2010, 146-147). Learning to perform some of the pottery decoration discussed here certainly required complex training processes involving both expert potters and mentored apprentices (Crown 2007; Hosfield 2009, 46). Thus, the stab-and-drag technique demanded time-consuming learning as well as careful and thorough execution (Alday 2009, 11-19). Likewise the selection and processing of particular raw materials – mainly bones – to attain the white inlays involved direct observation and hands-on training (Odriozola et al. 2012, 150). (…)

[5] Finally, the role of the Cogotas I pottery decoration was also deeply rooted in the sphere of social interactions through particular communal practices of exhibition and consumption. The celebration of commensality rituals is very often predicated as a key social practice among these communities (e.g. Harrison 1995, 74; Abarquero 2005, 56; Blanco-González 2014, 453). Potters embodied and replicated non-discursive shared tenets on a routine basis, but by means of these social gatherings and the deployment of such festive services ‘their visual materialisation made them part of the habitus of everybody’ (Chapman and Gaydarska 2007, 182). Bronze Age groups in the Meseta have recently been characterized as scarcely integrated, short-lasting and unstable social units, lacking long-term cultural rules and institutions, restricted to one generation lifespan at the most (Blanco-González 2015). (…)

Intruding East Bell Beakers

As we know from Olalde et al. (2018) and Mathieson et al. (2018), East Bell Beakers of R1b-L23 subclades and steppe ancestry brought North-West Indo-European languages to Europe, marked in Iberia by the first intrusive Y-DNA R1b-P312 subclades, as supported also by Martiniano et al. (2017) and Valdiosera et al. (2018). In fact, the Bronze Age Cogotas I culture shows the first R1b-DF27 subclade found to date (R1b-DF27 is prevalent among modern Iberians).

If we take into account that the earliest Iberian Bell Beakers were I2a, R1b-V88, and G2a, just like previous Chalcolithic and Neolithic Iberians, it cannot get clearer how and when the first Indo-European waves reached Iberia, and thus that the Harrison and Heyd (2007) model of East Bell Beaker expansion was right. Not a single reputable geneticist contests the origin of R1b-L23 subclades in Iberia anymore (see e.g. Heyd, or Lazaridis).

While the Spanish archaeological school will be slow to adapt to genetic finds – since there are many scholars who have supported for years other ways of expansion of the different Bell Beaker motifs, and follow mostly the “pots not people” descriptive Archaeology – , many works like these can be just as well reinterpreted in light of what we already know happened in terms of population movements during this period, and this alone gives a whole new interesting perspective to archaeological finds.

On the previous, non-Indo-European stage of the Iberian Paeninsula, there is also a new paper (behind paywall), showing reasons for inter-regional differences, and thus supporting homogeneity before the arrival of Bell Beakers:

Stable isotope ratio analysis of bone collagen as indicator of different dietary habits and environmental conditions in northeastern Iberia during the 4th and 3rd millennium cal B.C., by Villalba-Mouco et al. Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2018).

Scatter plot of human and fauna bone collagen δ13C and δ15N values from Cova de la Guineu and Cueva de Abauntz according to their location inside Iberia

Interesting excerpts:

The Chalcolithic period is traditionally defined by the emergence of copper elements and associated to the beginning of defensive-style architecture (Esquivel and Navas 2007). This last characteristic only seems to appear clearly in the southeast of the Iberian Peninsula, with the denominated Millares Culture (e.g. García Sanjuán 2013; Valera et al. 2014). In the rest of the Iberian Peninsula, the Neolithic-Chalcolithic transition is scarcely defined. In fact, it is possible that this transition does not even strictly exist and rather results from the evolution of villages present in the most advanced phases of the Neolithic (e.g. Blasco et al. 2007). This continuity is also perceptible in most of the sepulchral caves over time, where radiocarbon dates show a continued use from the 4th to the 3rd millennium cal B.C. (Fernández-Crespo 2016; Utrilla et al. 2015; Villalba-Mouco et al. 2017). Moreover, it is possible to find some copper materials normally associated with burial contexts as prestigious grave goods (Blasco and Ríos 2010), but not as evidence of a massive replacement of commonly used tools such as flint blades, bone industry, polished stones or pottery without singular characteristics from a unique period (Pérez-Romero et al. 2017). (…)

Scatter plot of human and fauna bone collagen δ13C and δ15N values from Cueva de Abauntz (above) and Cova de la Guineu (below).

The human isotope values from both sites portray a quite homogeneous overall diet among humans. This homogeneous pattern of diet based on C3 terrestrial resources seems to be general along the entire Iberian Peninsula during the Late Neolithic and Chalcolithic (e.g. Alt et al. 2016; Díaz-Zorita 2014; Fernández-Crespo et al. 2016; Fontanals-Coll et al. 2015; García-Borja et al. 2013; López-Costas et al. 2015; McClure et al. 2011; Sarasketa-Gartzia et al. 2017; Villalba- Mouco et al. 2017; Salazar-García 2011; Salazar-García et al. 2013b; Salazar-García 2014; Waterman et al. 2016). The reason of this homogeneity could be the consolidated economy based on agriculture and livestock, together with a higher mobility among the different communities and the increase of trade networks, not only in prestigious objects (Schuhmacher and Banerjee 2012) but also in food products. Isotopic analyses in fauna remains could give us more clues about animal trade, as happens in other chronologies (Salazar- García et al. 2017).

In any case, and even if the dietary interpretation does not vary, it is noteworthy to mention that there are significant differences between δ13C human values from Cova de la Guineu and δ13C human values from Cueva de Abauntz (Mann-Whitney test, p = 1.05× 10−12) (Fig. 6). This observed δ13C differences among humans is also present among herbivores (Mann-Whitney test, p = 0.0004), which define the baseline of each ecosystem. This suggests that the observed human difference between sites should not be attributed to diet, but most possibly to the existence of enough environmental differences to be recorded in the collagen δ13C values along the food web. Plants are very sensitive to different environmental factors (altitude, temperature, luminosity or water availability) and their physiological adaptation to its factors can generate a variation in their isotopic values as happens with C3 and C4 adaptations (O’Leary 1981; Ambrose 1991). This spectrum of values has been used to assess several aspects about past environmental conditions when studying the δ13C and δ15N isotopic values of a species with a fixed diet over time (e.g. Stevens et al. 2008; González-Guarda et al. 2017). Moreover, this gradual δ13C and δ15N variation among different environments is very helpful to discriminate altitudinal movements in herbivores with a high precision method based on serial dentine analysis (Tornero et al. 2016b). In our case, results reflect the influence of environment from at least two areas in Iberia (the Western Prepyrenees and the Northeastern coast of Iberia). These differences demand caution when interpreting human diets from different sites that are not contemporary and/or not in a same area, as it is possible that the environmental influence is responsible for changes otherwise attributed to different subsistence patterns and social structures (Fernández-Crespo and Schulting 2017), as has been demonstrated in neighbouring territories (Herrscher and Bras-Goude 2010; Goude and Fontugne 2016).


The Caucasus a genetic and cultural barrier; Yamna dominated by R1b-M269; Yamna settlers in Hungary cluster with Yamna


Open access The genetic prehistory of the Greater Caucasus, by Wang et al. bioRxiv (2018).

The Caucasus Mountains as a prehistoric barrier

I think the essential message we can extract from the paper is that the Caucasus was a long-lasting cultural and genetic barrier, although (obviously) it was not insurmontable.

Our results show that at the time of the eponymous grave mound of Maykop, the North Caucasus piedmont region was genetically connected to the south. Even without direct ancient DNA data from northern Mesopotamia, the new genetic evidence suggests an increased assimilation of Chalcolithic individuals from Iran, Anatolia and Armenia and those of the Eneolithic Caucasus during 6000-4000 calBCE23, and thus likely also intensified cultural connections. Within this sphere of interaction, it is possible that cultural influences and continuous subtle gene flow from the south formed the basis of Maykop.

The zoomed map shows the location of sites in the Caucasus. The size of the circle reflects number of individuals that produced genome-wide data. The dashed line illustrates a hypothetical geographic border between genetically distinct Steppe and Caucasus clusters.

Also, unlike more recent times, the North Caucasian piedmont and foothill of the Caucasus region was more strongly connected to Northern Iran than to the steppe, at least until the Bronze Age.

(…) our data shows that the northern flanks were consistently linked to the Near East and had received multiple streams of gene flow from the south, as seen e.g. during the Maykop, Kura-Araxes and late phase of the North Caucasus culture.

Northern Caucasus dominated by R1b, southern Caucasus by J and G2

Comparison of Y-chromosome (A) 1123 and mitochondrial (B) haplogroup distribution in the Steppe and Caucasus cluster.

The first samples from the Eneolithic (one ca. 4300 BC?, the other ca. 4100 BC) are R1b1, without further subclades, so it is difficult to say if they were V88. On the PCA, they seem to be an important piece of the early Khvalynsk -> early Yamna transition period, since they cluster closer to (or even among) subsequent Yamna samples.

From 3000 BC onwards, all samples from the Northern Caucasus group of Yamna are R1b-M269, which right now is probably no surprise for anyone.

The Catacomb culture is dominated by R1b-Z2103, which agrees with what we saw in the unclassified Ukraine Eneolithic sample. However, the new samples (clustering close to Yamna, but with slightly ‘to the south’ of it) don’t seem to cluster closely to that first sample, so that one may still remain a real ‘outlier’, showing incoming influence (through exogamy) from the north.

If anyone was still wondering, no R1a in any of the samples, either. This, and the homogeneous R1b-Z2103 community in Catacomb (a culture in an intermediate region between Late Yamna to the West, and Poltavka to the East), together with Poltavka dominated by R1b-Z2103, too, should put an end to the idea that Steppe MLBA (Sintashta-Petrovka/Potapovka) somehow formed in the North Pontic steppe and appeared directly in the Volga-Ural region. A Uralic/Indo-Iranian community it is, then.

The admixed population from the Caucasus probably points to an isolated region of diverse peoples and languages even in this period, which justifies the strong differences among the historic language families attested in the Caucasus.

So, not much space for Anatolian migrating with those expected Maykop samples with EHG ancestry, unless exogamy is proposed as a source of language change.

ADMIXTURE and PCA results, and chronological order of ancient Caucasus individuals. Samples from Hungary are surrounded by red circles (see below for ADMIXTURE data) (a) ADMIXTURE results (k=12) of the newly genotyped individuals (fillbred symbols with black outlines) sorted by genetic clusters (Steppe and Caucasus) and in chronological order (coloured bars indicate the relative archaeological dates, (b) white circles the mean calibrated radiocarbon date and the errors bars the 2-sigma range. (d) shows these projected onto a PCA of 84 modern-day West Eurasian populations (open symbols).

Yamna Hungary, and the previous Yamna “outliers”

Those western “Yamna outliers”, as I expected, were part of some late Khvalynsk/early Yamna groups that cluster “to the south” of eastern Yamna samples:

Another important observation is that all later individuals in the steppe region, starting with Yamnaya, deviate from the EHG-CHG admixture cline towards European populations in the West. This documents that these individuals had received Anatolian farmer-related ancestry, as documented by quantitative tests and recently also shown for two Yamnaya individuals from Ukraine (Ozera) and one from Bulgaria24. For the North Caucasus region, this genetic contribution could have occurred through immediate contact with groups in the Caucasus or further south. An alternative source, explaining the increase in WHG-related ancestry, would be contact with contemporaneous Chalcolithic/EBA farming groups at the western periphery of the Yamnaya culture distribution area, such as Globular Amphora and Tripolye (Cucuteni–Trypillia) individuals from Ukraine, which also have been shown to carry Anatolian Neolithic farmer-derived ancestry24.

On the other hand, it is interesting that – although no information is released about these samples – Yamna Bulgaria is now a clear outlier, among very “Yamnaya”-like Yamna settlers from Hungary, most likely from the Carpathian basin, and new Yamna LCA/EBA samples, possibly from Late Yamna (see them also marked in the PCA above):

Modified image, with red rectangles surrounding (unexplained) Hungarian samples (c) ADMIXTURE results of relevant prehistoric individuals mentioned in the text (filled symbols)

The important admixture of Yamna settlers with native populations, seen in expanding East Bell Beakers of R1b-L23 lineages from ca. 2500 BC on, must have therefore happened at the same time as the adoption of the proto-Bell Beaker package, i.e. precisely during the Carpathian Basin / Lower Danube settlements, and not in West Yamna.

Modified image, with red rectangles surrounding (unexplained) Yamna samples 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

So, it can’t get clearer that Late Neolithic Baltic and Corded Ware migrants, sharing R1a-Z645 lineages and a different admixture, related to Eneolithic North Pontic groups such as Sredni Stog (see above ADMIXTURE graphics of CWC and Eneolithic Ukraine samples), did not come from West Yamna migrants, either.

So much for the R1a/R1b Yamna community that expanded Late PIE into Corded Ware.

NOTE. Andrew Gelman has coined a term for a curious phenomenon (taken from an anonymous commenter): “Eureka bias”, which refers not only to how researchers stick to previously reported incorrect results or interpretations, but also to how badly they react to criticism, even if they understand that it is well-founded. Directly applicable to the research groups that launched the Yamna-CWC idea (and the people who followed them) based on the fallacious “Yamnaya ancestry” concept, and who are still rooting for some version of it, from now on with exogamy, patron-client relationships, Eneolithic Indo-Slavonic, and whatnot. Unless, that is, Anthony’s latest model is right, and Yamna Hungary is suddenly full of R1a-Z645 samples…

Images used are from the article.


Before steppe ancestry: Europe’s genetic diversity shaped mainly by local processes, with varied sources and proportions of hunter-gatherer ancestry


The definitive publication of a BioRxiv preprint article, in Nature: Parallel palaeogenomic transects reveal complex genetic history of early European farmers, by Lipson et al. (2017).

The dataset with all new samples is available at the Reich Lab’s website. You can try my drafts on how to do your own PCA and ADMIXTURE analysis with some of their new datasets.


Ancient DNA studies have established that Neolithic European populations were descended from Anatolian migrants who received a limited amount of admixture from resident hunter-gatherers. Many open questions remain, however, about the spatial and temporal dynamics of population interactions and admixture during the Neolithic period. Here we investigate the population dynamics of Neolithization across Europe using a high-resolution genome-wide ancient DNA dataset with a total of 180 samples, of which 130 are newly reported here, from the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods of Hungary (6000–2900 BC, n = 100), Germany (5500–3000 BC, n = 42) and Spain (5500–2200 BC, n = 38). We find that genetic diversity was shaped predominantly by local processes, with varied sources and proportions of hunter-gatherer ancestry among the three regions and through time. Admixture between groups with different ancestry profiles was pervasive and resulted in observable population transformation across almost all cultural transitions. Our results shed new light on the ways in which gene flow reshaped European populations throughout the Neolithic period and demonstrate the potential of time-series-based sampling and modelling approaches to elucidate multiple dimensions of historical population interactions.

There were some interesting finds on a regional level, with some late survival of hunter-gatherer ancestry (and Y-DNA haplogroups) in certain specific sites, but nothing especially surprising. This survival of HG ancestry and lineages in Iberia and other regions may be used to revive (yet again) the controversy over the origin of non-Indo-European languages of Europe attested in historical times, such as the only (non-Uralic) one surviving to this day, the Basque language.

This study kept confirming the absence of Y-DNA R1b-M269 subclades in Central Europe before the arrival of Yamna migrants, though, which offers strong reasons to reject the Indo-European from the west hypothesis.

Here are first the PCA of samples included in this paper, and then the PCA of ancient Eurasians (Mathieson et al. 2017) and modern populations (Lazaridis et al. 2014) for comparison of similar clusters:

First two principal components from the PCA. We computed the principal components (PCs) for a set of 782 present-day western Eurasian individuals genotyped on the Affymetrix Human Origins array (background grey points) and then projected ancient individuals onto these axes. A close-up omitting the present-day Bedouin population is shown. From Lipton et al. (2017(
PCA of South-East European and other European samples from Mathieson et al. (2017)
Ancient and modern samples on Lazaridis et al. (2014)