Corded Ware—Uralic (II): Finno-Permic and the expansion of N-L392/Siberian ancestry


This is the second of three posts on the Corded Ware—Uralic identification. See Corded Ware—Uralic(I): Differences and similarities with Yamna.

I read from time to time that “we have not sampled Uralic speakers yet”, and “we are waiting to see when Uralic-speaking peoples are sampled”. Are we, though?

Proto-language homelands are based on linguistic data, such as guesstimates for dialectal evolution, loanwords and phonetic changes for language contacts, toponymy for ancient territories, etc. depending on the available information. The trace is then followed back, using available archaeological data, from the known historic speakers and territory to the appropriate potential prehistoric cultures. Only then can genetic analyses help us clarify the precise prehistoric population movements that better fit the models.

The traditional family tree of the Uralic branches. Kallio (2014)

The linguistic homeland

We thought – using linguistic guesstimates and fitting prehistoric cultures and their expansion – that Yamna was the Late Proto-Indo-European culture, so when Yamna was sampled, we had Late Proto-Indo-Europeans sampled. Simple deduction.

We thought that north-eastern Europe was a Uralic-speaking area during the Neolithic:

  • For those supporting a western continuity (and assuming CWC was Indo-European), the language was present at least since the Comb Ware culture, potentially since the Mesolithic.
  • For those supporting a late introduction into Finland, Uralic expanded the latest with Abashevo-related movements after its incorporation of Volosovo and related hunter-gatherers.

The expansion to the east must have happened through progressive infiltrations with Seima-Turbino / Andronovo-related expansions.

Some datings for the traditional proto-stages from Uralic to Finnic. Kallio (2014).

Finding the linguistic homeland going backwards can be described today as follows:

I. Proto-Fennic homeland

Based on the number of Baltic loanwords, not attested in the more eastern Uralic branches (and reaching only partially Mordvinic), the following can be said about western Finno-Permic languages (Junttila 2014):

The Volga-Kama Basin lies still too far east to be included in a list of possible contact locations. Instead, we could look for the contact area somewhere between Estonia in the west and the surroundings of Moscow in the east, a zone with evidence of Uralic settlement in the north and Baltic on the south side.

The only linguistically well-grounded version of the Stone Age continuation theory was presented by Mikko Korhonen in 1976. Its validity, however, became heavily threatened when Koivulehto 1983a-b proved the existence of a Late Proto-Indo-European or Pre-Baltic loanword layer in Saami, Finnic, and Mordvinic. Since this layer must precede the Baltic one and it was presumably acquired in the Baltic Sea region, Koivulehto posited it on the horizon of the Battle Axe period. This forces a later dating for the Baltic–Finnic contacts.

Today the Battle Axe culture is dated at 3200 to 3000 BC, a period far too remote to correspond linguistically with Proto-Baltic (Kallio 1998a).

Since the Baltic contacts began at a very initial phase of Proto-Finnic, the language must have been relatively uniform at that time. Hence, if we consider that the layer of Baltic loanwords may have spread over the Gulf of Finland at that time, we could also insist that the whole of the Proto-Finnic language did so.

Prehistoric Balts as the southern neighbours of Proto-Finnic speakers. 1 = The approximated area of Proto-Uralic. 2 = The approximated area of Finnic during the Iron Age. 3 = The area of ancient Baltic hydronyms. 4 = The area of Baltic languages in about 1200 AD. 5 = The problem: When did Uralic expand westwards and when did it meet Baltic? Junntila (2012).

II. Proto-Finno-Saamic homeland

The evidence of continued Palaeo-Germanic loanwords (from Pre- to Proto-Germanic stages) is certainly the most important data to locate the Finno-Saamic homeland, and from there backwards into the true Uralic homeland. Following Kallio (2017):

(…) the loanword evidence furthermore suggests that the ancestors of Finnic and Saamic had at least phonologically remained very close to Proto-Uralic as late as the Bronze Age (ca. 1700–500 BC). In particular, certain loanwords, whose Baltic and Germanic sources point to the first millennium BC, after all go back to the Finno-Saamic proto-stage, which is phonologically almost identical to the Uralic proto-stage (see especially the table in Sammallahti 1998: 198–202). This being the case, Dahl’s wave model could perhaps have some use in Uralic linguistics, too.

The presence of Pre-Germanic loanwords points rather to the centuries around the turn of the 2nd – 1st millennium BC or earlier. Proto-Germanic words must have been borrowed before the end of Germanic influence in the eastern Baltic at the beginning of the Iron Age, which sets a clear terminus ante quem ca. 800 BC.

The arrival of Bell Beaker peoples in Scandinavia ca. 2350 BC, heralding the formation of the Dagger Period, as well as the development of Pre-Germanic in common with Finnic-like populations point to the late 3rd / early 2nd millennium BC as the first time of close interaction through the Baltic region.

III. Proto-Uralic homeland

(…) the earliest Indo-European loanwords in the Uralic languages (…) show that Proto-Uralic cannot have been spoken much earlier than Proto-Indo-European dated about 3500 BC (Koivulehto 2001: 235, 257). As the same loanword evidence naturally also shows that the Uralic and Indo-European homelands were not located far from one another, the Uralic homeland can most likely be located in the Middle and Upper Volga region, right north of the Indo-European homeland*. From the beginning of the Subneolithic period about 5900 BC onwards, this region was an important innovation centre, from where several cultural waves spread to the Finnish Gulf area, such as the Sperrings Ware wave about 4900 BC, the Combed Ware wave about 3900 BC, and the Netted Ware wave about 1900 BC (Carpelan & Parpola 2001: 78–90).

The mainstream position is nowadays trying to hold together the traditional views of Corded Ware as Indo-European, and a Uralic Fennoscandia during the Bronze Age.

The following is an example of how this “Volosovo/Forest Zone hunter-gatherer theory” of Uralic origins looks like, as a ‘mixture’ of cultures and languages that benefits from the lack of genetic data for certain regions and periods (taken from Parpola 2018):

The extent of Typical Comb Ware (TCW), Asbestos- and Organic-tempered Wares (AOW) and Volosovo and Garino-Bor cultures; areas with deposits of native copper in Karelia and copperbearing sandstone in Volga-Kama-area are marked dark gray (after Zhuravlev 1977; Krajnov 1987; Nagovitsyn 1987; Chernykh 1992; Carpelan 1999; Zhul´nikov 1999). From Nordqvist et al. (2012).

The Corded Ware (or Battle Axe) culture intruded into the Eastern Baltic and coastal Finland already around 3100 BCE. The continuity hypothesis maintains that the early Proto-Finnic speakers of the coastal regions, who had come to Finland in the 4th millennium BCE with the Comb-Pitted Ware, coexisted with the Corded Ware newcomers, gradually adopting their pastoral culture and with it a number of NW-IE loanwords, but assimilating the immigrants linguistically.

The fusion of the Corded Ware and the local Comb-Pitted Ware culture resulted into the formation of the Kiukais culture (c. 2300–1500) of southwestern Finland, which around 2300 received some cultural impulses from Estonia, manifested in the appearance of the Western Textile Ceramic (which is different from the more easterly Textile Ceramic or Netted Ware, and which is first attested in Estonia c. 2700 BCE, cf. Kriiska & Tvauri 2007: 88), and supposed to have been accompanied by an influx of loanwords coming from Proto-Baltic. At the same time, the Kiukais culture is supposed to have spread the custom of burying chiefs in stone cairns to Estonia.

The coming of the Corded Ware people and their assimilation created a cultural and supposedly also a linguistic split in Finland, which the continuity hypothesis has interpreted to mean dividing Proto-Saami-Finnic unity into its two branches. Baltic Finnic, or simply Finnic, would have emerged in the coastal regions of Finland and in the northern East Baltic, while preforms of Saami would have been spoken in the inland parts of Finland.

The Nordic Bronze Age culture, correlated above with early Proto-Germanic, exerted a strong influence upon coastal Finland and Estonia 1600–700 BCE. Due to this, the Kiukais culture was transformed into the culture of Paimio ceramics (c. 1600–700 BCE), later continued by Morby ceramics (c. 700 BCE – 200 CE). The assumption is that clear cultural continuity was accompanied by linguistic continuity. Having assimilated the language of the Germanic traders and relatively few settlers of the Bronze Age, the language of coastal Finland is assumed to have reached the stage of Proto-Finnish at the beginning of the Christian era. In Estonia, the Paimio ceramics have a close counterpart in the contemporaneous Asva ceramics.

Eastern homelands?

I will not comment on Siberian or Central Asian homeland proposals, because they are obviously not mainstream, still less today when we know that Uralic was certainly in contact with Proto-Indo-European, and then with Pre- and Proto-Indo-Iranian, as supported even by the Copenhagen group in Damgaard et al. (2018).

This is what Kallio (2017) has to say about the agendas behind such proposals:

Interestingly, the only Uralicists who generally reject the Central Russian homeland are the Russian ones who prefer the Siberian homeland instead. Some Russians even advocate that the Central Russian homeland is only due to Finnish nationalism or, as one of them put it a bit more tactfully, “the political and ideological situation in Finland in the first decades of the 20th century” (Napolskikh 1995: 4).

Still, some Finns (and especially those who also belong to the “school who wants it large and wants it early”) simultaneously advocate that exactly the same Central Russian homeland is due to Finnlandisierung (Wiik 2001: 466).

Hence, for those of you willing to learn about fringe theories not related to North-Eastern Europe, you also have then the large and early version of the Uralic homeland, with Wiik’s Palaeolithic continuity of Uralic peoples spread over all of eastern and central Europe (hence EHG and R1a included):

Palaeolithic boat peoples and Finno-Ugric. Source

These fringe Finnish theories look a lot like the Corded Ware expansion… Better not go the Russian or Finnish nationalist ways? Agreed then, let’s discuss only rational proposals based on current data.

The archaeological homeland

For a detailed account of the Corded Ware expansion with Battle Axe, Fatyanovo-Balanovo, and Abashevo groups into the area, you can read my recent post on the origin of R1a-Z645.

1. Textile ceramics

During the 2nd millennium BC, textile impressions appear in pottery as a feature across a wide region, from the Baltic area through the Volga to the Urals, in communities that evolve from late Corded Ware groups without much external influence.

While it has been held that this style represents a north-west expansion from the Volga region (with the “Netted Ware” expansion), there are actually at least two original textile styles, one (earlier) in the Gulf of Finland, common in the Kiukainen pottery, which evolves into the Textile ware culture proper, and another which seems to have an origin in the Middle Volga region to the south-east.

The Netted ware culture is the one that apparently expands into inner Finland – a region not densely occupied by Corded Ware groups until then. There are, however, no clear boundaries between groups of both styles; textile impressions can be easily copied without much interaction or population movement; and the oldest textile ornamentation appeared on the Gulf of Finland. Hence the tradition of naming all as groups of Textile ceramics.

Maximum distribution of Textile ceramics during the Bronze Age (ca. 2000-800 BC). Asbestos-tempered ware lies to the north (and is also continued in western Fennoscandia).

The fact that different adjacent groups from the Gulf of Finland and Forest Zone share similar patterns making it very difficult to differentiate between ‘Netted Ware’ or ‘Textile Ware’ groups points to:

  • close cultural connections that are maintained through the Gulf of Finland and the Forest Zone after the evolution of late Corded Ware groups; and
  • no gross population movements in the original Battle Axe / Fatyanovo regions, except for the expansion of Netted Ware to inner Finland, Karelia, and the east, where the scattered Battle Axe finds and worsening climatic conditions suggest most CWC settlements disappeared at the end of the 3rd millennium BC and recovered only later.

NOTE. This lack of population movement – or at least significant replacement by external, non-CWC groups – is confirmed in genetic investigation by continuity of CWC-related lineages (see below).

The technology present in Textile ceramics is in clear contrast to local traditions of sub-Neolithic Lovozero and Pasvik cultures of asbestos-tempered pottery to the north and east, which point to a different tradition of knowledge and learning network – showing partial continuity with previous asbestos ware, since these territories host the main sources of asbestos. We have to assume that these cultures of northern and eastern Fennoscandia represent Palaeo-European (eventually also Palaeo-Siberian) groups clearly differentiated from the south.

The Chirkovo culture (ca. 1800-700 BC) forms on the middle Volga – at roughly the same time as Netted Ware formed to the west – from the fusion of Abashevo and Balanovo elites on Volosovo territory, and is also related (like Abashevo) to materials of the Seima-Turbino phenomenon.

Bronze Age ethnolinguistic groups

In the Gulf of Finland, Kiukainen evolves into the Paimio ceramics (in Finland) — Asva Ware (in Estonia) culture, which lasts from ca. 1600 to ca. 700 BC, probably representing an evolving Finno-Saamic community, while the Netted Ware from inner Finland (the Sarsa and Tomitsa groups) and the groups from the Forest Zone possibly represent a Volga-Finnic community.

NOTE. Nevertheless, the boundaries between Textile ceramic groups are far from clear, and inner Finland Netted Ware groups seem to follow a history different from Netted Ware groups from the Middle and Upper Volga, hence they could possibly be identified as an evolving Pre-Saamic community.

Based on language contacts, with Early Baltic – Early Finnic contacts starting during the Iron Age (ca. 500 BC onwards), this is a potential picture of the situation at the end of this period, when Germanic influence on the coast starts to fade, and Lusatian culture influence is stronger:

The linguistic situation in Lapland and the northern Baltic Sea Area in the Early Iron Age prior to the expansion of Saami languages; the locations of the language groups are schematic. The black line indicates the distribution of Saami languages in the 19th century, and the gray line their approximate maximal distribution before the expansion of Finnic. Aikio (2012)

The whole Finno-Permic community remains thus in close contact, allowing for the complicated picture that Kallio mentions as potentially showing Dahl’s wave model for Uralic languages.

Genetic data shows a uniform picture of these communities, with exclusively CWC-derived ancestry and haplogroups. So in Mittnik et al. (2018) all Baltic samples show R1a-Z645 subclades, while the recent session on Estonian populations in ISBA 8 (see programme in PDF) clearly states that:

[Of the 24 Bronze Age samples from stone-cist graves] all 18 Bronze Age males belong to R1a.

Regarding non-Uralic substrates found in Saami, supposedly absorbed during the expansion to the north (and thus representing languages spoken in northern Fennoscandia during the Bronze Age) this is what Aikio (2012) has to say:

The Saami substrate in the Finnish dialects thus reveals that also Lakeland Saami languages had a large number of vocabulary items of obscure origin. Most likely many of these words were substrate in Lakeland Saami, too, and ultimately derive from languages spoken in the region before Saami. In some cases the loan origin of these words is obvious due to their secondary Proto-Saami vowel combinations such as *ā–ë in *kāvë ‘bend; small bay’ and *šāpšë ‘whitefish’. This substrate can be called ‘Palaeo-Lakelandic’, in contrast to the ‘Palaeo-Laplandic’ substrate that is prominent in the lexicon of Lapland Saami. As the Lakeland Saami languages became extinct and only fragments of their lexicon can be reconstructed via elements preserved in Finnish place-names and dialectal vocabulary, we are not in a position to actually study the features of this Palaeo-Lakelandic substrate. Its existence, however, appears evident from the material above.

If we wanted to speculate further, based on the data we have now, it is very likely that two opposing groups will be found in the region:

A) The central Finnish group, in this hypothesis the Palaeo-Lakelandic group, made up of the descendants of the Mesolithic pioneers of the Komsa and Suomusjärvi cultures, and thus mainly Baltic HG / Scandinavian HG ancestry and haplogroups I / R1b(xM269) (see more on Scandinavian HG).

Frequency map of the so-called ‘Siberian’ component. From Tambets et al. (2018).

B) Lapland and Kola were probably also inhabited by similar Mesolithic populations, until it was eventually assimilated by expanding Siberian groups (of Siberian ancestry and N1c-L392 lineages) from the east – entering the region likely through the Kola peninsula – , forming the Palaeo-Laplandic group, which was in turn later replaced by expanding Proto-Saamic groups.

Siberian ancestry appears first in Fennoscandia at Bolshoy Oleni Ostrov ca. 1520 BC, with haplogroup N1c-L392 (2 samples, BOO002 and BOO004), and with Siberian ancestry. This is their likely movement in north-eastern Europe, from Lamnidis et al (2018):

The large Siberian component in the Bolshoy individuals from the Kola Peninsula provides the earliest direct genetic evidence for an eastern migration into this region. Such contact is well documented in archaeology, with the introduction of asbestos-mixed Lovozero ceramics during the second millenium BC, and the spread of even-based arrowheads in Lapland from 1,900 BCE. Additionally, the nearest counterparts of Vardøy ceramics, appearing in the area around 1,600-1,300 BCE, can be found on the Taymyr peninsula, much further to the east. Finally, the Imiyakhtakhskaya culture from Yakutia spread to the Kola Peninsula during the same period.

PCA plot of 113 Modern Eurasian populations, with individuals from this study projected on the principal components. Uralic speakers are highlighted in light purple. Image modified from Lamnidis et al. (2018)

Obviously, these groups of asbestos-tempered ware are not connected to the Uralic expansion. From the same paper:

The fact that the Siberian genetic component is consistently shared among Uralic-speaking populations, with the exceptions of Hungarians and the non-Uralic speaking Russians, would make it tempting to equate this component with the spread of Uralic languages in the area. However, such a model may be overly simplistic. First, the presence of the Siberian component on the Kola Peninsula at ca. 4000 yBP predates most linguistic estimates of the spread of Uralic languages to the area. Second, as shown in our analyses, the admixture patterns found in historic and modern Uralic speakers are complex and in fact inconsistent with a single admixture event. Therefore, even if the Siberian genetic component partly spread alongside Uralic languages, it likely presented only an addition to populations carrying this component from earlier.

2. The Early Iron Age

The Ananino culture appears in the Vyatka-Kama area, famed for its metallurgy, with traditions similar to the North Pontic area, by this time developing Pre-Sauromatian traditions. It expanded to the north in the first half of the first millennium BC, remaining in contact with the steppes, as shown by the ‘Scythian’ nature of its material culture.

NOTE. The Ananino culture can be later followed through its zoomorphic styles into Iron Age Pjanoborskoi and Gljadenovskoi cultures, later to Ural-Siberian Middle Age cultures – Itkuska, Ust’-Poluiska, Kulaiska cultures –, which in turn can be related as prototypes of medieval Permian styles.

Territory of (early and maximum) Ananino material culture. Vasilyev (2002).

At the same time as the Ananino culture begins to expand ca. 1000 BC, the Netted Ware tradition from the middle Oka expanded eastwards into the Oka-Vyatka interfluve of the middle Volga region, until then occupied by the Chirkovo culture. Eventually the Akozino or Akhmylovo group (ca. 800-300 BC) emerged from the area, showing a strong cultural influence from the Ananino culture, by that time already expanding into the Cis-Urals region.

The Akozino culture remains nevertheless linked to the western Forest Zone traditions, with long-ranging influences from as far as the Lusatian culture in Poland (in metallurgical techniques), which at this point is also closely related with cultures from Scandinavia (read more on genetics of the Tollense Valley).

Mälar celts and molds for casting (a) and the main distribution area (в) of Mälar-type celts of the Mälar type in the Volga-Kama region (according to Kuzminykh 1983: figure 92) and Scandinavia (according to Baudou 1960: Karte 10); Ananino celts and molds for casting (б) and the main distribution area (г) of the distribution of the celts of the Ananino type in the Volga-Kama area (according to Kuzminykh 1983: figure 9); dagger of Ananino type (д).Map from (Yushkova 2010)

Different materials from Akozino reach Fennoscandia late, at the end of the Bronze Age and beginning of the Early Iron Age, precisely when the influence of the Nordic Bronze Age culture on the Gulf of Finland was declining.

This is a period when Textile ceramic cultures in north-eastern Europe evolve into well-armed chiefdom-based groups, with each chiefdom including thousands or tens of thousands, with the main settlements being hill forts, and those in Fennoscandia starting ca. 1000-400 BC.

Mälar-type celts and Ananino-type celts appear simultaneously in Fennoscandia and the Forest Zone, with higher concentrations in south-eastern Sweden (Mälaren) and the Volga-Kama region, supporting the existence of a revived international trade network.

Distribution of the Akozino-Mälar axes according to Sergej V. Kuz’minykh (1996: 8, Abb. 2).

The Paimio—Asva Ware culture evolves (ca. 700-200 BC) into the Morby (in Finland) — Ilmandu syle (in Estonia, Latvia, and Mälaren) culture. The old Paimio—Asva tradition continues side by side with the new one, showing a clear technical continuity with it, but with ornamentation compared to the Early Iron Age cultures of the Upper Volga area. This new south-eastern influence is seen especially in:

  • Akozino-Mälar axes (ca. 800-500 BC): introduced into the Baltic area in so great numbers – especially south-western Finland, the Åland islands, and the Mälaren area of eastern Sweden – that it is believed to be accompanied by a movement of warrior-traders of the Akozino-Akhmylovo culture, following the waterways that Vikings used more than a thousand years later. Rather than imports, they represent a copy made with local iron sources.
  • Tarand graves (ca. 500 BC – AD 400): these ‘mortuary houses’ appear in the coastal areas of northern and western Estonia and the islands, at the same time as similar graves in south-western Finland, eastern Sweden, northern Latvia and Courland. Similar burials are found in Akozino-Akhmylovo, with grave goods also from the upper and middle Volga region, while grave goods show continuity with Textile ware.

The use of asbestos increases in mainland Finnish wares with Kjelmøy Ware (ca. 700 BC – AD 300), which replaced the Lovozero Ware; and in the east in inner Finland and Karelia with the Luukonsaari and Sirnihta wares (ca. 700-500 BC – AD 200), where they replaced the previous Sarsa-Tomitsa ceramics.

The Gorodets culture appears during the Scythian period in the forest-steppe zone north and west of the Volga, shows fortified settlements, and there are documented incursions of Gorodets iron makers into the Samara valley, evidenced by deposits of their typical pottery and a bloom or iron in the region.

Iron Age ethnolinguistic groups

According to (Koryakova and Epimakhov 2007):

It is commonly accepted by archaeology, ethnography, and linguistics that the ancestors of the Permian peoples (the Udmurts, Komi-Permians, and Komi-Zyryans) left the sites of Ananyino cultural intercommunity.

NOTE. For more information on the Late Metal Ages and Early Medieval situation of Finno-Ugric languages, see e.g. South-eastern contact area of Finnic languages in the light of onomastics (Rahkonen 2013).

Yakhr-, -khra, yedr-, -dra and yer-/yar, -er(o), -or(o) names of lakes in Central and North Russia and the possible boundary of the proto-language words *jäkra/ä and *järka/ä. Rahkonen (2011)

Certain innovations shared between Proto-Fennic (identified with the Gulf of Finland) and Proto-Mordvinic (from the Gorodets culture) point to their close contact before the Proto-Fennic expansion, and thus to the identification of Gorodets as Proto-Mordvinic, hence Akozino as Volgaic (Parpola 2018):

  • the noun paradigms and the form and function of individual cases,
  • the geminate *mm (foreign to Proto-Uralic before the development of Fennic under Germanic influence) and other non-Uralic consonant clusters.
  • the change of numeral *luka ‘ten’ with *kümmen.
  • The presence of loanwords of non-Uralic origin, related to farming and trees, potentially Palaeo-European in nature (hence possibly from Siberian influence in north-eastern Europe).
Map of archaeological cultures in north-eastern Europe ca. 8th-3rd centuries BC. [The Mid-Volga Akozino group not depicted] Shaded area represents the Ananino cultural-historical society. Purple area show likely zones of predominant Siberian ancestry and N1c-L392 lineages. Blue areas likely zones of predominant CWC ancestry and R1a-Z645 lineages. Fading purple arrows represent likely stepped movements of haplogroup N1c-L392 for centuries (Siberian → Ananino → Akozino → Fennoscandia), found eventually in tarand graves. Blue arrows represent eventual expansions of Fennic and (partially displaced) Saamic. Modified image from Vasilyev (2002).

The introduction of a strongly hierarchical chiefdom system can quickly change the pre-existing social order and lead to a major genetic shift within generations, without a radical change in languages, as shown in Sintashta-Potapovka compared to the preceding Poltavka society (read more about Sintashta).

Fortified settlements in the region represented in part visiting warrior-traders settled through matrimonial relationships with local chiefs, eager to get access to coveted goods and become members of a distribution network that could guarantee them even military assistance. Such a system is also seen synchronously in other cultures of the region, like the Nordic Bronze Age and Lusatian cultures (Parpola 2013).

The most likely situation is that N1c subclades were incorporated from the Circum-Artic region during the Anonino (Permic) expansion to the north, later emerged during the formation of the Akozino group (Volgaic, under Anonino influence), and these subclades in turn infiltrated among the warrior traders that spread all over Fennoscandia and the eastern Baltic (mainly among Fennic, Saamic, Germanic, and Balto-Slavic peoples), during the age of hill forts, creating alliances partially based on exogamy strategies (Parpola 2013).

Over the course of these events, no language change is necessary in any of the cultures involved, since the centre of gravity is on the expanding culture incorporating new lineages:

  • first on the Middle Volga, when Ananino expands to the north, incorporatinig N1c lineages from the Circum-Artic region.
  • then with the expansion of the Akozino-Akhmylovo culture into Ananino territory, admixing with part of its population;
  • then on the Baltic region, when materials are imported from Akozino into Fennoscandia and the eastern Baltic (and vice versa), with local cultures being infiltrated by foreign (Akozino) warrior-traders and their materials;
  • and later with the different population movements that led eventually to a greater or lesser relevance of N1c in modern Finno-Permic populations.

To argue that this infiltration and later expansion of lineages changed the language in one culture in one of these events seems unlikely. To use this argument of “opposite movement of ethnic and language change” for different successive events, and only on selected regions and cultures (and not those where the greatest genetic and cultural impact is seen, like e.g. Sweden for Akozino materials) is illogical.

NOTE. Notice how I write here about “infiltration” and “lineages”, not “migration” or “populations”. To understand that, see below the next section on autosomal studies to compare Bronze Age, Iron Age, Medieval and Modern Estonians, and see how little the population of Estonia (homeland of Proto-Fennic and partially of Proto-Finno-Saamic) has changed since the Corded Ware migrations, suggesting genetic continuity and thus mostly close inter-regional and intra-regional contacts in the Forest Zone, hence a very limited impact of the absorbed N1c lineages (originally at some point incorporated from the Circum-Artic region). You can also check on the most recent assessment of R1a vs. N1c in modern Uralic populations.

Iron Age and later populations

From the session on Estonian samples on ISBA 8, by Tambets et al.:

[Of the 13 samples from the Iron Age tarand-graves] We found that the Iron Age individuals do in fact carry chrY hg N3 (…) Furthermore, based on their autosomal data, all of the studied individuals appear closer to hunter-gatherers and modern Estonians than Estonian CWC individuals do.

EDIT (16 OCT) A recent abstract with Saag as main author (Tambets second) cites 3 out of 5 sampled Iron Age individuals as having haplogroup N3.

PCA of Estonian samples from the Bronze Age, Iron Age and Medieval times. Tambets et al. (2018, upcoming).

Looking at the plot, the genetic inflow marking the change from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age looks like an obvious expansion of nearby peoples with CWC-related ancestry, i.e. likely from the south-east, near the Middle Volga, where influence of steppe peoples is greater (hence likely Akozino) into a Proto-Fennic population already admixed (since the arrival of Corded Ware groups) with Comb Ware-like populations.

All of these groups were probably R1a-Z645 (likely R1a-Z283) since the expansion of Corded Ware peoples, with an introduction of some N1c lineages precisely during this Iron Age period. This infiltration of N1c-L392 with Akozino is obviously not directly related to Siberian cultures, given what we know about the autosomal description of Estonian samples.

Rather, N1c-L392 lineages were likely part of the incoming (Volgaic) Akozino warrior-traders, who settled among developing chiefdoms based on hill fort settlements of cultures all over the Baltic area, and began to appear thus in some of the new tarand graves associated with the Iron Age in north-eastern Europe.f

A good way to look at this is to realize that no new cluster appears compared to the data we already have from Baltic LN and BA samples from Mittnik et al. (2018), so the Estonian BA and IA clusters must be located (in a proper PCA) in the cline from Pit-Comb Ware culture through Baltic BA to Corded Ware groups:

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

This genetic continuity from Corded Ware (the most likely Proto-Uralic homeland) to the Proto-Fennic and Proto-Saamic communities in the Gulf of Finland correlates very well with the known conservatism of Finno-Saamic phonology, quite similar to Finno-Ugric, and both to Proto-Uralic (Kallio 2017): The most isolated region after the expansion of Corded Ware peoples, the Gulf of Finland, shielded against migrations for almost 1,500 years, is then the most conservative – until the arrival of Akozino influence.

NOTE. This has its parallel in the phonetic conservatism of Celtic or Italic compared to Finno-Ugric-influenced Germanic, Balto-Slavic, or Indo-Iranian.

Only later would certain regions (like Finland or Lappland) suffer Y-DNA bottlenecks and further admixture events associated with population displacements and expansions, such as the spread of Fennic peoples from their Estonian homeland (evidenced by the earlier separation of South Estonian) to the north and east:

The Finnic family tree. Kallio (2014).

The initial Proto-Fennic expansion was probably coupled with the expansion of Proto-Saami to the north, with the Kjelmøy Ware absorbing the Siberian population of Lovozero Ware, and potentially in inner Finland and Karelia with the Luukonsaari and Sirnihta wares (Carpelan and Parpola 2017).

This Proto-Saami population expansion from the mainland to the north, admixing with Lovozero-related peoples, is clearly reflected in the late Iron Age Saamic samples from Levänluhta (ca. 400-800 AD), as a shift (of 2 out of 3 samples) to Siberian-like ancestry from their original CWC_Baltic-like situation (see PCA from Lamnidis et al. 2018 above).

Also, Volgaic and Permic populations from inner Finland and the Forest Zone to the Cis-Urals and Circum-Artic regions probably incorporate Siberian ancestry and N1c-L392 lineages during these and later population movements, while the westernmost populations – Estonian, Mordvinic – remain less admixed (see PCA from Tambets et al. 2018 below).

We also have data of N1c-L392 in Nordic territory in the Middle Ages, proving its likely strong presence in the Mälaren area since the Iron Age, with the arrival of Akozino warrior traders. Similarly, it is found among Balto-Slavic groups along the eastern Baltic area. Obviously, no language change is seen in Nordic Bronze Age and Lusatian territory, and none is expected in Estonian or Finnish territory, either.

Therefore, no “N1c-L392 + Siberian ancestry” can be seen expanding Finno-Ugric dialects, but rather different infiltrations and population movements with limited effects on ancestry and Y-DNA composition, depending on the specific period and region.

Selection of the PCA, with the group of Estonians, Mordovians, and Hungarians selected. See Tambets et al. (2018) for more information.

An issue never resolved

Because N1c-L392 subclades & Siberian ancestry, which appear in different proportions and with different origins among some modern Uralic peoples, do not appear in cultures supposed to host Uralic-speaking populations until the Iron Age, people keep looking into any direction to find the ‘true’ homeland of those ‘Uralic N1c peoples’? Kind of a full circular reasoning, anyone? The same is valid for R1a & steppe ancestry being followed for ‘Indo-Europeans’, or R1b-P312 & Neolithic farmer ancestry being traced for ‘Basques’, because of their distribution in modern populations.

I understand the caution of many pointing to the need to wait and see how samples after 2000 BC are like, in every single period, from the middle and upper Volga, Kama, southern Finland, and the Forest Zone between Fennoscandia and the steppe. It’s like waiting to see how people from Western Yamna and the Carpathian Basin after 3000 BC look like, to fill in what is lacking between East Yamna and Bell Beakers, and then between them and every single Late PIE dialect.

But the answer for Yamna-Bell Beaker-Poltavka peoples during the Late PIE expansion is always going to be “R1b-L23, but with R1a-Z645 nearby” (we already have a pretty good idea about that); and the answer for the Forest Zone and northern Cis- and Trans-Urals area – during the time when Uralic languages are known to have already been spoken there – is always going to be “R1a-Z645, but with haplogroup N nearby”, as is already clear from the data on the eastern Baltic region.

So, without a previously proposed model as to where those amateurs expressing concern about ‘not having enough data’ expect to find those ‘Uralic peoples’, all this waiting for the right data looks more like a waiting for N1c and Siberian ancestry to pop up somewhere in the historic Uralic-speaking area, to be able to say “There! A Uralic-speaking male!”. Not a very reasonable framework to deal with prehistoric peoples and their languages, I should think.

But, for those who want to do that, let me break the news to you already:

First N1c – Finno-Ugric person arrives in Estonia to teach Finno-Saamic to Balto-Slavic peoples.

And here it is, an appropriate fantasy description of the ethnolinguistic groups from the region. You are welcome:

  • During the Bronze Age, late Corded Ware groups evolve as the western Textile ware Fennic Balto-Slavic group in the Gulf of Finland; the Netted Ware Saamic Balto-Slavic group of inner Finland; the south Netted Ware / Akozino Volgaic Balto-Slavic groups of the Middle Volga; and the Anonino Permic Balto-Slavic group in the north-eastern Forest Zone; all developing still in close contact with each other, allowing for common traits to permeate dialects.
  • These Balto-Slavic groups would then incorporate west of the Urals during and after the Iron Age (ca. 800-500 BC first, and also later during their expansion to the north) limited ancestry and lineages from eastern European hunter-gatherer groups of Palaeo-European Fennic and Palaeo-Siberian Volgaic and Permic languages from the Circum-Artic region, but they adopted nevertheless the language of the newcomers in every single infiltration of N1c lineages and/or admixture with Siberian ancestry. Oh and don’t forget the Saamic peoples from central Sweden, of course, the famous N1c-L392 ‘Rurikid’ lineages expanding Saamic to the north and replacing Proto-Germanic…

The current model for those obsessed with modern Y-DNA is, therefore, that expanding Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age cultures from north-eastern Europe adopted the languages of certain lineages originally from sub-Neolithic (Scandinavian and Siberian) hunter-gatherer populations of the Circum-Artic region; lineages that these cultures incorporated unevenly during their expansions. Hmmmm… Sounds like an inverse Western movie, where expanding Americans end up speaking Apache, and the eastern coast speaks Spanish until Italian migrants arrive and make everyone speak English… or something. A logic, no-nonsense approach to ethnolinguistic identification.

I kid you not, this is the kind of models we are going to see very soon. In 2018 and 2019, with ancient DNA able to confirm or reject archaeological hypotheses based on linguistic data, people will keep instead creating new pet theories to support preconceived ideas based on the Y-DNA prevalent among modern populations. That is, information available in the 2000s.

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

[Next post on the subject: Corded Ware—Uralic (III): Seima-Turbino and the Ugric and Samoyedic expansion]


Scythians in Ukraine, Natufian and sub-Saharan ancestry in North Africa (ISBA 8, 21st Sep)


Interesting information from ISBA 8 sesions today, as seen on Twitter (see programme in PDF, and sessions from the 19th and the 20th september).

Official abstracts are listed first (emphasis mine), then reports and images and/or link to tweets. Here is the list for quick access:

Scythian population genetics and settlement patterns

Genetic continuity in the western Eurasian Steppe broken not due to Scythian dominance, but rather at the transition to the Chernyakhov culture (Ostrogoths), by Järve et al.

The long-held archaeological view sees the Early Iron Age nomadic Scythians expanding west from their Altai region homeland across the Eurasian Steppe until they reached the Ponto-Caspian region north of the Black and Caspian Seas by around 2,900 BP1. However, the migration theory has not found support from ancient DNA evidence, and it is still unclear how much of the Scythian dominance in the Eurasian Steppe was due to movements of people and how much reflected cultural diffusion and elite dominance. We present new whole-genome results of 31 ancient Western and Eastern Scythians as well as samples pre- and postdating them that allow us to set the Scythians in a temporal context by comparing the Western Scythians to samples before and after within the Ponto-Caspian region. We detect no significant contribution of the Scythians to the Early Iron Age Ponto-Caspian gene pool, inferring instead a genetic continuity in the western Eurasian Steppe that persisted from at least 4,800–4,400 cal BP to 2,700–2,100 cal BP (based on our radiocarbon dated samples), i.e. from the Yamnaya through the Scythian period.

However, the transition from the Scythian to the Chernyakhov culture between 2,100 and 1,700 cal BP does mark a shift in the Ponto-Caspian genetic landscape, with various analyses showing that Chernyakhov culture samples share more drift and derived alleles with Bronze/Iron Age and modern Europeans, while the Scythians position outside modern European variation. Our results agree well with the Ostrogothic origins of the Chernyakhov culture and support the hypothesis that the Scythian dominance was cultural rather than achieved through population replacement.

Detail of the slide with admixture of Scythian groups in Ukraine:


Interesting to read in combination with yesterday’s re-evaluation of Scythian mobility and settlement patterns in the west (showing adaptation to the different regional cultures), The Steppe was Sown – multi-isotopic research changes our understandings of Scythian diet and mobility, by Ventresca Miller et al.

Nomadic pastoralists conventionally known as the Scythians occupied the Pontic steppe during the Iron Age, c. 700-200 BC, a period of unprecedented pan-regional interaction. Popular science accounts of the Scythians promote narratives of roving bands of nomadic warriors traversing the steppe from the Altai Mountains to the Black Sea coastline. The quantity and scale of mobility in the region is usually emphasized based on the wide distribution of material culture and the characterization of Iron Age subsistence economies in the Pontic steppe and forest-steppe as mobile pastoralism. Yet, there remains a lack of systematic, direct analysis of the mobility of individuals and their animals. Here, we present a multi-isotopic analysis of humans from Iron Age Scythian sites in Ukraine. Mobility and dietary intake were documented through strontium, carbon and oxygen isotope analyses of tooth enamel. Our results provide direct evidence for mobility among populations in the steppe and forest-steppe zones, demonstrating a range of localized mobility strategies. However, we found that very few individuals came from outside of the broader vicinity of each site, often staying within a 90 km radius. Dietary intake varied at the intrasite level and was based in agro-pastoralism.

While terrestrial protein did form a portion of the diet for some individuals, there were also high levels of a 13C-enriched food source among many individuals, which has been interpreted as millet consumption. Individuals exhibiting 87Sr/86Sr ratios that fell outside the local range were more likely to have lower rates of millet consumption than those that fell within the local range. This suggests that individuals moving to the site later in life had different economic pursuits and consumed less millet. There is also strong evidence that children and infants moved at the pan-regional scale. Contrary to the popular narrative, the majority of Scythians engaged in localized mobility as part of agricultural lifeways while pan-regional movements included family groups.

North-Africans show ancestry from the ancient Near East and sub-Saharan Africa

Pleistocene North Africans show dual genetic ancestry from the ancient Near East and sub-Saharan Africa, by van de Loosdrecht et al.

North Africa, connecting sub-Saharan Africa and Eurasia, is important for understanding human history. However, the genetic history of modern humans in this region is largely unknown before the introduction of agriculture. After the Last Glacial Maximum modern humans, associated with the Iberomaurusian culture, inhabited a wide area spanning from Morocco to Libya. The Iberomaurusian is part of the early Later Stone Age and characterized by a distinct microlithic bladelet technology, complex hunter-gathering and tooth evulsion.

Here we present genomic data from seven individuals, directly dated to ~15,000-year-ago, from Grotte des Pigeons, Taforalt in Morocco. Uni-parental marker analyses show mitochondrial haplogroup U6a for six individuals and M1b for one individual, and Y-chromosome haplogroup E-M78 (E1b1b1a1) for males. We find a strong genetic affinity of the Taforalt individuals with ancient Near Easterners, best represented by ~12,000 year old Levantine Natufians, that made the transition from complex hunter-gathering to more sedentary food production. This suggests that genetic connections between Africa and the Near East predate the introduction of agriculture in North Africa by several millennia. Notably, we do not find evidence for gene flow from Paleolithic Europeans into the ~15,000 year old North Africans as previously suggested based on archaeological similarities. Finally, the Taforalt individuals derive one third of their ancestry from sub-Saharan Africans, best approximated by a mixture of genetic components preserved in present-day West Africans (Yoruba, Mende) and Africans from Tanzania (Hadza). In contrast, modern North Africans have a much smaller sub-Saharan African component with no apparent link to Hadza. Our results provide the earliest direct evidence for genetic interactions between modern humans across Africa and Eurasia.

A detail of the cultures involved in these population movements:


So, most likely, Natufian-related ancestry – as sub-Saharan ancestry – not related to the Afroasiatic expansion.

NOTE. This now probably outdated already by the new preprint on Dzudzuana samples, from the Caucasus.

Impact of colonization in north-eastern Siberia

Exploring the genomic impact of colonization in north-eastern Siberia by Seguin-Orlando et al.

Yakutia is the coldest region in the northern hemisphere, with winter record temperatures below minus 70°C. The ability of Yakut people to adapt both culturally and biologically to extremely cold temperatures has been key to their subsistence. They are believed to descend from an ancestral population, which left its original homeland in the Lake Baykal area following the Mongol expansion between the 13th and 15th centuries AD. They originally developed a semi-nomadic lifestyle, based on horse and cattle breeding, providing transportation, primary clothing material, meat, and milk. The early colonization by Russians in the first half of the 17th century AD, and their further expansion, have massively impacted indigenous populations. It led not only to massive epidemiological outbreaks, but also to an important dietary shift increasingly relying on carbohydrate-rich resources, and a profound lifestyle transition with the gradual conversion from Shamanism to Christianity and the establishment of new marriage customs. Leveraging an exceptional archaeological collection of more than a hundred of bodies excavated by MAFSO (Mission Archéologique Française en Sibérie Orientale) over the last 15 years and naturally kept frozen by the extreme cold temperatures of Yakutia, we have started to characterize the (epi)genome of indigenous individuals who lived from the 16th to the 20th century AD. Current data include the genome sequence of approximately 50 individuals that lived prior to and after Russian contact, at a coverage from 2 to 40 fold. Combined with data from archaeology and physical anthropology, as well as microbial DNA preserved in the specimens, our unique dataset is aimed at assessing the biological consequences of the social and biological changes undergone by the Yakut people following their neolithisation by Russian colons.

Also interesting to read Balanovsky’s session, and a previous paper on the expansion of Yakuts.

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.


Common pitfalls in human genomics and bioinformatics: ADMIXTURE, PCA, and the ‘Yamnaya’ ancestral component


Good timing for the publication of two interesting papers, that a lot of people should read very carefully:


Open access A tutorial on how not to over-interpret STRUCTURE and ADMIXTURE bar plots, by Daniel J. Lawson, Lucy van Dorp & Daniel Falush, Nature Communications (2018).

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

Experienced researchers, particularly those interested in population structure and historical inference, typically present STRUCTURE results alongside other methods that make different modelling assumptions. These include TreeMix, ADMIXTUREGRAPH, fineSTRUCTURE, GLOBETROTTER, f3 and D statistics, amongst many others. These models can be used both to probe whether assumptions of the model are likely to hold and to validate specific features of the results. Each also comes with its own pitfalls and difficulties of interpretation. It is not obvious that any single approach represents a direct replacement as a data summary tool. Here we build more directly on the results of STRUCTURE/ADMIXTURE by developing a new approach, badMIXTURE, to examine which features of the data are poorly fit by the model. Rather than intending to replace more specific or sophisticated analyses, we hope to encourage their use by making the limitations of the initial analysis clearer.

The default interpretation protocol

Most researchers are cautious but literal in their interpretation of STRUCTURE and ADMIXTURE results, as caricatured in Fig. 1, as it is difficult to interpret the results at all without making several of these assumptions. Here we use simulated and real data to illustrate how following this protocol can lead to inference of false histories, and how badMIXTURE can be used to examine model fit and avoid common pitfalls.

A protocol for interpreting admixture estimates, based on the assumption that the model underlying the inference is correct. If these assumptions are not validated, there is substantial danger of over-interpretation. The “Core protocol” describes the assumptions that are made by the admixture model itself (Protocol 1, 3, 4), and inference for estimating K (Protocol 2). The “Algorithm input” protocol describes choices that can further bias results, while the “Interpretation” protocol describes assumptions that can be made in interpreting the output that are not directly supported by model inference


STRUCTURE and ADMIXTURE are popular because they give the user a broad-brush view of variation in genetic data, while allowing the possibility of zooming down on details about specific individuals or labelled groups. Unfortunately it is rarely the case that sampled data follows a simple history comprising a differentiation phase followed by a mixture phase, as assumed in an ADMIXTURE model and highlighted by case study 1. Naïve inferences based on this model (the Protocol of Fig. 1) can be misleading if sampling strategy or the inferred value of the number of populations K is inappropriate, or if recent bottlenecks or unobserved ancient structure appear in the data. It is therefore useful when interpreting the results obtained from real data to think of STRUCTURE and ADMIXTURE as algorithms that parsimoniously explain variation between individuals rather than as parametric models of divergence and admixture.

For example, if admixture events or genetic drift affect all members of the sample equally, then there is no variation between individuals for the model to explain. Non-African humans have a few percent Neanderthal ancestry, but this is invisible to STRUCTURE or ADMIXTURE since it does not result in differences in ancestry profiles between individuals. The same reasoning helps to explain why for most data sets—even in species such as humans where mixing is commonplace—each of the K populations is inferred by STRUCTURE/ADMIXTURE to have non-admixed representatives in the sample. If every individual in a group is in fact admixed, then (with some exceptions) the model simply shifts the allele frequencies of the inferred ancestral population to reflect the fraction of admixture that is shared by all individuals.

Several methods have been developed to estimate K, but for real data, the assumption that there is a true value is always incorrect; the question rather being whether the model is a good enough approximation to be practically useful. First, there may be close relatives in the sample which violates model assumptions. Second, there might be “isolation by distance”, meaning that there are no discrete populations at all. Third, population structure may be hierarchical, with subtle subdivisions nested within diverged groups. This kind of structure can be hard for the algorithms to detect and can lead to underestimation of K. Fourth, population structure may be fluid between historical epochs, with multiple events and structures leaving signals in the data. Many users examine the results of multiple K simultaneously but this makes interpretation more complex, especially because it makes it easier for users to find support for preconceptions about the data somewhere in the results.

In practice, the best that can be expected is that the algorithms choose the smallest number of ancestral populations that can explain the most salient variation in the data. Unless the demographic history of the sample is particularly simple, the value of K inferred according to any statistically sensible criterion is likely to be smaller than the number of distinct drift events that have practically impacted the sample. The algorithm uses variation in admixture proportions between individuals to approximately mimic the effect of more than K distinct drift events without estimating ancestral populations corresponding to each one. In other words, an admixture model is almost always “wrong” (Assumption 2 of the Core protocol, Fig. 1) and should not be interpreted without examining whether this lack of fit matters for a given question.

Three scenarios that give indistinguishable ADMIXTURE results. a Simplified schematic of each simulation scenario. b Inferred ADMIXTURE plots at K= 11. c CHROMOPAINTER inferred painting palettes.

Because STRUCTURE/ADMIXTURE accounts for the most salient variation, results are greatly affected by sample size in common with other methods. Specifically, groups that contain fewer samples or have undergone little population-specific drift of their own are likely to be fit as mixes of multiple drifted groups, rather than assigned to their own ancestral population. Indeed, if an ancient sample is put into a data set of modern individuals, the ancient sample is typically represented as an admixture of the modern populations (e.g., ref. 28,29), which can happen even if the individual sample is older than the split date of the modern populations and thus cannot be admixed.

This paper was already available as a preprint in bioRxiv (first published in 2016) and it is incredible that it needed to wait all this time to be published. I found it weird how reviewers focused on the “tone” of the paper. I think it is great to see files from the peer review process published, but we need to know who these reviewers were, to understand their whiny remarks… A lot of geneticists out there need to develop a thick skin, or else we are going to see more and more delays based on a perceived incorrect tone towards the field, which seems a rather subjective reason to force researchers to correct a paper.

PCA of SNP data

Open access Effective principal components analysis of SNP data, by Gauch, Qian, Piepho, Zhou, & Chen, bioRxiv (2018).

Interesting excerpts:

A potential hindrance to our advice to upgrade from PCA graphs to PCA biplots is that the SNPs are often so numerous that they would obscure the Items if both were graphed together. One way to reduce clutter, which is used in several figures in this article, is to present a biplot in two side-by-side panels, one for Items and one for SNPs. Another stratagem is to focus on a manageable subset of SNPs of particular interest and show only them in a biplot in order to avoid obscuring the Items. A later section on causal exploration by current methods mentions several procedures for identifying particularly relevant SNPs.

One of several data transformations is ordinarily applied to SNP data prior to PCA computations, such as centering by SNPs. These transformations make a huge difference in the appearance of PCA graphs or biplots. A SNPs-by-Items data matrix constitutes a two-way factorial design, so analysis of variance (ANOVA) recognizes three sources of variation: SNP main effects, Item main effects, and SNP-by-Item (S×I) interaction effects. Double-Centered PCA (DC-PCA) removes both main effects in order to focus on the remaining S×I interaction effects. The resulting PCs are called interaction principal components (IPCs), and are denoted by IPC1, IPC2, and so on. By way of preview, a later section on PCA variants argues that DC-PCA is best for SNP data. Surprisingly, our literature survey did not encounter even a single analysis identified as DC-PCA.

The axes in PCA graphs or biplots are often scaled to obtain a convenient shape, but actually the axes should have the same scale for many reasons emphasized recently by Malik and Piepho [3]. However, our literature survey found a correct ratio of 1 in only 10% of the articles, a slightly faulty ratio of the larger scale over the shorter scale within 1.1 in 12%, and a substantially faulty ratio above 2 in 16% with the worst cases being ratios of 31 and 44. Especially when the scale along one PCA axis is stretched by a factor of 2 or more relative to the other axis, the relationships among various points or clusters of points are distorted and easily misinterpreted. Also, 7% of the articles failed to show the scale on one or both PCA axes, which leaves readers with an impressionistic graph that cannot be reproduced without effort. The contemporary literature on PCA of SNP data mostly violates the prohibition against stretching axes.

DC-PCA biplot for oat data. The gradient in the CA-arranged matrix in Fig 13 is shown here for both lines and SNPs by the color scheme red, pink, black, light green, dark green.

The percentage of variation captured by each PC is often included in the axis labels of PCA graphs or biplots. In general this information is worth including, but there are two qualifications. First, these percentages need to be interpreted relative to the size of the data matrix because large datasets can capture a small percentage and yet still be effective. For example, for a large dataset with over 107,000 SNPs for over 6,000 persons, the first two components capture only 0.3693% and 0.117% of the variation, and yet the PCA graph shows clear structure (Fig 1A in [4]). Contrariwise, a PCA graph could capture a large percentage of the total variation, even 50% or more, but that would not guarantee that it will show evident structure in the data. Second, the interpretation of these percentages depends on exactly how the PCA analysis was conducted, as explained in a later section on PCA variants. Readers cannot meaningfully interpret the percentages of variation captured by PCA axes when authors fail to communicate which variant of PCA was used.


Five simple recommendations for effective PCA analysis of SNP data emerge from this investigation.

  1. Use the SNP coding 1 for the rare or minor allele and 0 for the common or major allele.
  2. Use DC-PCA; for any other PCA variant, examine its augmented ANOVA table.
  3. Report which SNP coding and PCA variant were selected, as required by contemporary standards in science for transparency and reproducibility, so that readers can interpret PCA results properly and reproduce PCA analyses reliably.
  4. Produce PCA biplots of both Items and SNPs, rather than merely PCA graphs of only Items, in order to display the joint structure of Items and SNPs and thereby to facilitate causal explanations. Be aware of the arch distortion when interpreting PCA graphs or biplots.
  5. Produce PCA biplots and graphs that have the same scale on every axis.

I read the referenced paper Biplots: Do Not Stretch Them!, by Malik and Piepho (2018), and even though it is not directly applicable to the most commonly available PCA graphs out there, it is a good reminder of the distorting effects of stretching. So for example quite recently in Krause-Kyora et al. (2018), where you can see Corded Ware and BBC samples from Central Europe clustering with samples from Yamna:

NOTE. This is related to a vertical distorsion (i.e. horizontal stretching), but possibly also to the addition of some distant outlier sample/s.

Principal Component Analysis (PCA) of the human Karsdorf and Sorsum samples together with previously published ancient populations projected on 27 modern day West Eurasian populations (not shown) based on a set of 1.23 million SNPs (Mathieson et al., 2015).

The so-called ‘Yamnaya’ ancestry

Every time I read papers like these, I remember commenters who kept swearing that genetics was the ultimate science that would solve anthropological problems, where unscientific archaeology and linguistics could not. Well, it seems that, like radiocarbon analysis, these promising developing methods need still a lot of refinement to achieve something meaningful, and that they mean nothing without traditional linguistics and archaeology… But we already knew that.

Also, if this is happening in most peer-reviewed publications, made by professional geneticists, in journals of high impact factor, you can only wonder how many more errors and misinterpretations can be found in the obscure market of so many amateur geneticists out there. Because amateur geneticist is a commonly used misnomer for people who are not geneticists (since they don’t have the most basic education in genetics), and some of them are not even ‘amateurs’ (because they are selling the outputs of bioinformatic tools)… It’s like calling healers ‘amateur doctors’.

NOTE. While everyone involved in population genetics is interested in knowing the truth, and we all have our confirmation (and other kinds of) biases, for those who get paid to tell people what they want to hear, and who have sold lots of wrong interpretations already, the incentives of ‘being right’ – and thus getting involved in crooked and paranoid behaviour regarding different interpretations – are as strong as the money they can win or loose by promoting themselves and selling more ‘product’.

As a reminder of how badly these wrong interpretations of genetic results – and the influence of the so-called ‘amateurs’ – can reflect on research groups, yet another turn of the screw by the Copenhagen group, in the oral presentations at Languages and migrations in pre-historic Europe (7-12 Aug 2018), organized by the Copenhagen University. The common theme seems to be that Bell Beaker and thus R1b-L23 subclades do represent a direct expansion from Yamna now, as opposed to being derived from Corded Ware migrants, as they supported before.

NOTE. Yes, the “Yamna → Corded Ware → Únětice / Bell Beaker” migration model is still commonplace in the Copenhagen workgroup. Yes, in 2018. Guus Kroonen had already admitted they were wrong, and it was already changed in the graphic representation accompanying a recent interview to Willerslev. However, since there is still no official retraction by anyone, it seems that each member has to reject the previous model in their own way, and at their own pace. I don’t think we can expect anyone at this point to accept responsibility for their wrong statements.

So their lead archaeologist, Kristian Kristiansen, in The Indo-Europeanization of Europé (sic):

Kristiansen’s (2018) map of Indo-European migrations

I love the newly invented arrows of migration from Yamna to the north to distinguish among dialects attributed by them to CWC groups, and the intensive use of materials from Heyd’s publications in the presentation, which means they understand he was right – except for the fact that they are used to support a completely different theory, radically opposed to those defended in Heyd’s model

Now added to the Copenhagen’s unending proposals of language expansions, some pearls from the oral presentation:

  • Corded Ware north of the Carpathians of R1a lineages developed Germanic;
  • R1b borugh [?] Italo-Celtic;
  • the increase in steppe ancestry on north European Bell Beakers mean that they “were a continuation of the Yamnaya/Corded Ware expansion”;
  • Corded Ware groups [] stopped their expansion and took over the Bell Beaker package before migrating to England” [yep, it literally says that];
  • Italo-Celtic expanded to the UK and Iberia with Bell Beakers [I guess that included Lusitanian in Iberia, but not Messapian in Italy; or the opposite; or nothing like that, who knows];
  • 2nd millennium BC Bronze Age Atlantic trade systems expanded Proto-Celtic [yep, trade systems expanded the language]
  • 1st millennium BC expanded Gaulish with La Tène, including a “Gaulish version of Celtic to Ireland/UK” [hmmm, dat British Gaulish indeed].

You know, because, why the hell not? A logical, stable, consequential, no-nonsense approach to Indo-European migrations, as always.

Also, compare still more invented arrows of migrations, from Mikkel Nørtoft’s Introducing the Homeland Timeline Map, going against Kristiansen’s multiple arrows, and even against the own recent fantasy map series in showing Bell Beakers stem from Yamna instead of CWC (or not, you never truly know what arrows actually mean):

Nørtoft’s (2018) maps of Indo-European migrations.

I really, really loved that perennial arrow of migration from Volosovo, ca. 4000-800 BC (3000+ years, no less!), representing Uralic?, like that, without specifics – which is like saying, “somebody from the eastern forest zone, somehow, at some time, expanded something that was not Indo-European to Finland, and we couldn’t care less, except for the fact that they were certainly not R1a“.

This and Kristiansen’s arrows are the most comical invented migration routes of 2018; and that is saying something, given the dozens of similar maps that people publish in forums and blogs each week.

NOTE. You can read a more reasonable account of how haplogroup R1b-L51 and how R1-Z645 subclades expanded, and which dialects most likely expanded with them.

We don’t know where these scholars of the Danish workgroup stand at this moment, or if they ever had (or intended to have) a common position – beyond their persistent ideas of Yamnaya™ ancestral component = Indo-European and R1a must be Indo-European – , because each new publication changes some essential aspects without expressly stating so, and makes thus everything still messier.

It’s hard to accept that this is a series of presentations made by professional linguists, archaeologists, and geneticists, as stated by the official website, and still harder to imagine that they collaborate within the same professional workgroup, which includes experienced geneticists and academics.

I propose the following video to close future presentations introducing innovative ideas like those above, to help the audience find the appropriate mood:


Mitogenomes show Longobard migration was socially stratified and included females


New bioRxiv preprint A genetic perspective on Longobard-Era migrations, by Vai et al. (2018).

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

In this study we sequenced complete mitochondrial genomes from nine early-medieval cemeteries located in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Italy, for a total of 87 individuals. In some of these cemeteries, a portion of the individuals are buried with cultural markers in these areas traditionally associated with the Longobard culture (hereby we refer to these cemeteries as LC), as opposed to burial communities in which no artifacts or rituals associated by archaeologists to Longobard culture have been found in any graves. These necropolises, hereby referred as NLC, may represent local communities or other Barbaric groups previously migrated to this region. This extended sampling strategy provides an excellent condition to investigate the degree of genetic affinity between coeval LC and NLC burials, and to shed light on early-medieval dynamics in Europe.

Geographical and genetic relationship between the newly sequenced individuals. (A) Location of the sampled necropolises. Here and through the other figures LC cemeteries are represented by a circle while NLC ones are indicated by a square. C) DAPC Scatterplot of the most supported K (7) highlighted by the kmeans analysis

Social rank

There is also no clear geographical structure between samples in our dataset, with individuals from Italy, Hungary and Czech Republic clustering together. However, the first PC clearly separates a group of 12 LC individuals found at Szólád, Collegno and Mušov from a group composed by both LC and NLC individuals. The same pattern is also found when pairwise differences among individuals are plotted by multidimensional scaling (…)

The presence in this group of LC sequences belonging to macrohaplogroups I and W, commonly found at high frequencies in northern Europe (e.g. Finland 32), suggests (although certainly does not prove) the existence of a possible link between these 12 LC individuals and northern Europe. The peculiarity of this group is strengthened by archaeological information from the Szólád cemetery, where 8 of the 12 individuals in this group originated, indicating that all these samples were found buried with typical Longobard artifacts and grave assemblages. We do not find the same tight association for the 3 samples from Collegno, where the 3 graves are indeed devoid of evident Germanic cultural markers; however they are not placed in a separate and marginal location—as for the tombs without grave goods found in Szólád —but among graves with wooden chambers and weapons. It is worth noting that weapon burials were quite scarce in 5th century Pannonia and 6th century Italy (e.g. Goths never buried weapons), and an increase in weapon burials started in Italy only after the Longobard migration. In this light, the individuals buried in this manner may have been members of the same community as well, but belonging to the lowest social level. This social condition could explain the absence of artifacts and could be related to mixed marriages, whose offspring had an inferior social rank. Finally, this group also includes an individual from the Musov graveyard. This finding is particularly interesting in light of the fact that the Musov necropolis has been only tentatively associated with Longobard occupation (see Supplementary Text for details), based on the presence of but a few archaeological markers.

Female migration

We hence estimated that about 70% of the lineages found in Collegno actually derived from the Hungarian LC groups, in agreement with previous archaeological and historical hypotheses. This supports the idea that the spread of Longobards into Italy actually involved movements of fairly large numbers of people, who gave a substantial contribution to the gene pool of the resulting populations. This is even more remarkable thinking that, in many studied cases, military invasions are movements of males, and hence do not have consequences at the mtDNA level. Here, instead, we have evidence of changes in the composition of the mtDNA pool of an Italian population, supporting the view that immigration from Central Europe involved females as well as males.


When Bell Beakers mixed with Eneolithic Europeans: Pömmelte and the Europe-wide concept of sanctuary


Recent open access paper The ring sanctuary of Pömmelte, Germany: a monumental, multi-layered metaphor of the late third millennium BC, by Spatzier and Bertemes, Antiquity (2018) 92(363):655-673.

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

In recent decades, evidence has accumulated for comparable enclosures of later dates, including the Early Bronze Age Únětice Culture between 2200 and 1600 BC, and thus into the chronological and cultural context of the Nebra sky disc. Based on the analysis of one of these enclosure sites, recently excavated at Pömmelte on the flood plain of the Elbe River near Magdeburg, Saxony-Anhalt, and dating to the late third millennium BC

The main occupation began at 2321–2211 cal BC, with the stratigraphically earliest features containing exclusively Bell Beaker finds. Bell Beaker ceramics continue after 2204–2154 cal BC (boundary occupation I/II), although they were probably undecorated, but are now complemented by Únětice Culture (and other Early Bronze Age) types. At this time, with features common to both cultures predominate. Only contexts dating to the late main occupation phase (late phase II) and thereafter contained exclusively Únětice Culture finds. Evidently, the bearers of the Bell Beaker Culture were the original builders of the enclosure. During a second phase of use, Final Neolithic and Early Bronze Age cultures coexisted and intermingled. The material remains, however, should not be taken as evidence for successive groups of differing archaeological cultures, but as witnesses to a cultural transition from the Bell Beaker Culture to the Únětice Culture (Spatzier 2015). The main occupation ended 2086–2021 cal BC with the deconstruction of the enclosure; Bell Beaker finds are now absent. Finally, a few features (among them one shaft) and radiocarbon dates attest the sporadic re-use of the site in a phase of abandonment/re-use that ended 1636– 1488 cal BC.

Cultural sequence and chronological model of the Pömmelte enclosure’s occupation (dates in 1σ-precision) (designed by André Spatzier).

How the above-ground structures possibly influenced perception may reveal another layer of meaning that highlights social functions related to ritual. While zone I was disconnected from the surroundings by a ‘semi-translucent’ post-built border, zones II/III were separated from the outside world by a wooden wall (i.e. the palisade), and zone III probably separated individuals from the crowd gathered in zone II. Accessing the interior or centre therefore meant passing through transitional zones, to first be secluded and then segregated. Exiting the structure meant re-integration and re-connection. The experience possibly induced when entering and leaving the monument reflects the three stages of ‘rites of passage’ described by van Gennep (1909): separation, liminality and incorporation. The enclosure’s outer zone(s) represents the pre- and post-liminal phase; the central area, the liminal phase. Seclusion and liminality in the interior promoted a sense of togetherness, which can be linked to Turner’s “communitas” (1969: 132–33). We might therefore see monuments such as the Pömmelte enclosure as important communal structures for social regulation and the formation of identity.

Layers of meaning of the Pömmelte enclosure as deduced from the archaeological record (design by André Spatzier).

(…) The long-term stability of these connotations must be emphasised. As with the tradition of making depositions, these meanings were valid from the start of the occupation — c. 2300 BC — until at least the early period following the deconstruction event, c. 2050 BC. While the spatial organisation and the solar alignment of the main entrances were maintained throughout the main occupation, stone axes and ‘formal’ graves indicate the continuation of the spatial concepts described above until the twentieth to nineteenth centuries BC.

These layers of meaning mirror parallel concepts of space including, although not necessarily restricted to, the formation of group identities (see Hansen & Meyer 2013: 5). They can perhaps be better understood as a ‘cosmological geography’ manifested in the symbolism of superimposed levels of conceptual ideas related to space and to certain cardinal points (Figure 8). This idea is closely related to Eliade’s (1959: 29–36) understanding of “organized — hence comicized — territory”, that is territory consecrated to provide orientation within the homogeneity of the chaotic ‘outside world’, and the equivalence of spatial consecration and cosmogony. Put differently, the Pömmelte enclosure can be interpreted as a man-made metaphor and an icon of the cosmos, reflecting the Weltanschauung (a comprehensive conception of the world) of the people who built and used it. By bringing together Eliade and Rappaport’s ideas of meaningfulness in relation to religious experience (Rappaport 1999: 391–95), it may be argued that Pömmelte was a place intended to induce oneness with the cosmos. In combining multiple layers that symbolically represent different aspects of life (first-ordermeaning), the enclosure became an icon metaphorically representing the world (second-order-meaning). As this icon was the place to reaffirm life symbolism ritually, through their actions, people perhaps experienced a sense of rootedness in, or unity with, the cosmos (highest-order-meaning). Although we can only speculate about the perceptions of ancient people, such a theory aiming to describe general principles of religious experience can provide insight.


The circular enclosure of Pömmelte is the first Central European monumental complex of primarily sacred importance that has been excavated and studied in detail. It reveals aspects of society and belief during the transition from the Final Neolithic to the Early Bronze Age, in the second half of the third millennium BC. Furthermore, it offers details of ritual behaviour and the way that people organised their landscape. A sacred interior was separated from the profane environment, and served as a venue for rites that secured the continuity of the social, spiritual and cosmic order. Ancestor worship formed another integral part of this: a mound-covered burial hut and a square-shaped ditch sanctuary (located, respectively, within and near the enclosure’s south-eastern sector; cf. Figure 2)—dating to 2880–2580 cal BC and attributed to the Corded Ware Culture (Spatzier 2017a: 235–44)—suggest that this site was deliberately chosen. With construction of the ring sanctuary, this place gained an immense expansion in meaning—comparable to Stonehenge. Through architectural transformation, both of these sites developed into sanctuaries with increasingly complex religious functions, including in relation to the cult of the dead. The cosmological and social functions, and the powerful symbolism of the Nebra sky disc and hoard (Meller 2010: 59–70), are reflected in Pömmelte’s monumental architecture.

All of these features—along with Pömmelte’s dating, function and complex ring structure—are well documented for British henge monuments (Harding 2003; Gibson 2005). The continuous use of circular enclosures in Central Europe from around 3000– 1500 BC remains to be confirmed, but strong evidence indicates usage spanning from the fifth to the first millennia BC (Spatzier 2017a: 273–96). From 2500 BC onwards, examples in Central Europe, Iberia and Bulgaria (Bertemes 2002; Escudero Carrillo et al. 2017) suggest a Europe-wide concept of sanctuary. This indicates that in extensive communication networks at the beginning of bronze metallurgy (Bertemes 2016), intellectual and religious contents circulated alongside raw materials. The henge monuments of the British Isles are generally considered to represent a uniquely British phenomenon, unrelated to Continental Europe; this position should now be reconsidered. The uniqueness of Stonehenge lies, strictly speaking, with its monumental megalithic architecture.

Model of the spatial organisation of the Pömmelte enclosure (designed by André Spatzier).

The Classical Bell Beaker heritage

No serious scholar can argue at this point against the male-biased East Bell Beaker migrations that expanded the European languages related to Late Proto-Indo-European-speaking Yamna (see David Reich’s comments), and thus most likely North-West Indo-European – the ancestor of Italo-Celtic, Germanic, and Balto-Slavic, apart from Pre-Celtic IE in the British Isles, Lusitano-Galician in Iberia, or Messapic in Italy (see here a full account).

With language, these migrants (several ten thousands) brought their particular Weltanschauung to all of Western, Central, and Northern Europe. Their admixture precisely in Hungary shows that they had close interactions with non-Indo-European peoples (genetically related to the Globular Amphorae culture), something that we knew from the dozens of non-Indo-European words reconstructed exclusively for North-West Indo-European, apart from the few reconstructed non-Indo-European words that NWIE shares with Palaeo-Balkan languages, which point to earlier loans from their ancestors, Yamna settlers migrating along the lower Danube.

It is not difficult to imagine that the initial East Bell Beaker group shared a newly developed common cosmological point of view that clashed with other neighbouring Yamna-related worldviews (e.g. in Balkan EBA cultures) after the cultural ties with Yamna were broken. Interesting in this respect is for example their developed (in mythology as in the new North-West Indo-European concept) *Perkwūnos, the weather god – probably remade (in language as in concept) from a Yamna minor god also behind Old Indian parjányas, the rain god – as one of the main gods from the new Pantheon, distinct from *Dyēus patēr, the almighty father sky god. In support of this, the word *meldh-n- ‘lightning’, behind the name of the mythological hammer of the weather god (cf. Old Norse Mjǫllnir or Latvian Milna), was also a newly coined North-West Indo-European term, although the myth of the hero slaying the dragon with the magical object is older.

The Hand of Perkūnas by Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, from Wikipedia

Circular enclosures are known in Europe since the Neolithic. Also, the site selected for the Pömmelte enclosure had been used to bury Corded Ware individuals some centuries before its construction, and Corded Ware symbolism (stone axe vs. quern) is seen in the use given by Bell Beakers and later Únětice at this place. All this and other regional similarities between Bell Beakers and different local cultures (see here an example of Iberian Bell Beakers) points to syncretism of the different Bell Beaker groups with preceding cultures in the occupied regions. After all, their genealogical ancestors included also those of their maternal side, and not all encountered males disappeared, as is clearly seen in the resurge of previous paternal lineages in Central-East Europe and in Scandinavia. The admixture of Bell Beakers with previous groups (especially those of similar steppe-related ancestry from Corded Ware) needs more complex analyses to clarify potential early dialectal expansions (read what Iosif Lazaridis has to say).

The popular “big and early” expansions

These syncretic trends gave rise to distinct regional cultures, and eventually different local groups rose to power in the new cultural regions and ousted the old structures. Social norms, hierarchy, and pantheons were remade. Events like this must have been repeated again and again in Bronze and Iron Age Europe, and in many cases it was marked by a difference in the prevailing archaeological culture attested, and probably accompanied by certain population replacements that will be seen with more samples and studies of fine-scale population structure.

Some of these cultural changes, marked by evident haplogroup or admixture replacement, are defined as a ‘resurge’ of ancestry linked to previous populations, although that is obviously not equivalent to a resurge of a previous cultural group, because they usually represent just a successful local group of the same supraregional culture with a distinct admixture and/or haplogroup (see e.g. resurge of R1a-Z645 in Central-East European Bronze Age). Social, religious, or ethnic concepts may have changed in each of these episodes, along with the new prestige dialect.

NOTE. A recent open access paper on two newly studied Middle Bronze Age inhumations from Stonehenge give an interesting idea of potential differences in social identities, in ancestry and geographic origin (which characterize ethnicity) may have been marked by differences in burial ceremonies: Lives before and after Stonehenge: An osteobiographical study of four prehistoric burials recently excavated from the Stonehenge World Heritage Site, by Mays et al. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports (2018) 20:692-710.

This must have happened then many times during the hundreds (or thousands in some cases) of years until the first attestation of a precise ancient language and culture (read e.g. about one of the latest branches to be attested, Balto-Slavic). Ancient language contacts, like substrates or toponymy, can only rarely be detected after so many changes, so their absence (or the lack of proper studies on them) is usually not relevant – and certainly not an argument – in scholarly discussions. Their presence, on the other hand, is a proof of such contacts.

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

We have dozens of papers supporting Uralic dialectal substrate influence on Pre-Germanic, Proto-Balto-Slavic, and Pre- and Proto-Indo-Iranian (and even Proto-Celtic), as well as superstrate influence of Palaeo-Germanic (i.e. from Pre- to Proto-Germanic) and Proto-Balto-Slavic into Proto-Finno-Saamic, much stronger than the Indo-Iranian adstrate influence on Finno-Ugric (see the relative importance of each influence) which locates all these languages and their evolution to the north and west of the steppe (with Proto-Permic already separated, in North-East Europe, as is Proto-Ugric further east near the Urals), probably around the Baltic and Scandinavia after the expansion of Bell Beakers. These connections have been known in linguistics for decades.

Apart from some early 20th century scholars, only a minority of Indo-Europeanists support nowadays an Indo-European (i.e. centum) substrate for Balto-Slavic, to keep alive an Indo-Slavonic group based on a hypothetical 19th century Satem group; so e.g. Holzer with his Temematic, and Kortlandt supporting him, also with some supposed Indo-European substrate with heavy non-Indo-European influence for Germanic and Balto-Slavic, that now (thanks mainly to the views of the Copenhagen group) have been linked to the Corded Ware culture, as it has become clear even to them that Bell Beakers expanded North-West Indo-European.

NOTE. The Temematic etymologies have been (all of them) fully dismissed e.g. in Matasović (2013). I have already explained why an Indo-Slavonic group from Sredni Stog is not tenable, and genetics (showing Late PIE only from Yamna expansions) is proving that, too.

For their part, only a minority among Uralicists, such as Kuz’mina, Parpola or Häkkinen, believe in an ‘eastern’ origin of Uralic languages, around the Southern Urals. Genomic finds – like their peers – are clearly not supporting their views. But even if we accept this hypothesis, there is little space beyond Abashevo and related East Corded Ware cultures after the recent papers on Corded Ware and Fennoscandian samples. And yet here we are:

The Copenhagen “Homeland” interactive map

Brought to you by the Copenhagen fantasy map series, Indo-Europeans after (no, really, after) the expansion of Yamna settlers in Hungary ca. 2700 BC: Yamna settlers have magically disappeared. Yamna-related Balkan EBA cultures and the hundreds of Yamna kurgans around the Lower Danube and in Hungary up to Saxony-Anhalt do not exist. Dat huge mythical Middle Dnieper territory lasting (unchanged) for a thousand years, in sooo close contact with Yamna territory (so beautifully ‘linked’ together that they must have been BFFs and admixed!). Uralic Mesolithic hunter-gatherers resisting IE invasions in Volosovo for 1,500 years like Asterix’ Gaulish village against the Romans. Tiny pockets of Bell Beakers will eventually emerge from (surprise!) Corded Ware territories beautifully scattered over Central and Northern Europe (unlike those eastern CWC mega-regions). And, of course, you can almost see Kroonen & Iversen’s Kurgan Pre-Germanic mixing already with their agricultural substrate TRB precisely in full-IE Denmark (quite appropriate for the Danish school). And sheep symbols representing wool finds, for no reason. A great map to mock for years to come, with each new genetic paper.

The new propaganda tool GIS timeline map of the Copenhagen group:

  • consciously ignores Yamna settlers along the Danube, in the Balkans, and in Hungary, and initial East Bell Beakers, i.e. the obvious origin and expansion of North-West Indo-Europeans, but in contrast magnifies (and expands in time) regions for Sredni Stog / Corded Ware cultures (which suggests that this is yet another absurd attempt to revive the theories of the Danish school…);
  • substitutes arrows for Kron-like colors (where danger red = Indo-European) with the same end result of many other late 20th century whole-Europe Kurgan maps, linking Sredni Stog and Corded Ware with Yamna, but obviating the precise origin of Corded Ware peoples (is it Sredni Stog, or is it that immutable Middle Dnieper group? is it West Yamna, or Yamna Hungary? is it wool, or is it wheels?);
  • relegates Uralic speakers to a tiny corner, a ‘Volosovo’ cultural region, thus near Khvalynsk/Yamna (but not too much), that miraculously survives surrounded by all-early-splitting, all-Northern Eneolithic Indo-Europeans, thus considering Uralic languages irrelevant not only to locate the PIE Urheimat, but also to locate their own homeland; also, cultures identified in color with Uralic speakers expand until the Iron Age with enough care not to even touch in the map one of the known R1a samples published to date (because, for some people, apparently R1a must be Indo-European); and of course N1c or Siberian ancestry are irrelevant, too;
  • and adds findings of wheels and wool probably in support of some new ideas based on yet another correlation = causation argument (that I cannot then properly criticize without access to its reasoning beyond cute SmartArt-like symbols) similar to their model – already becoming a classic example of wrong use of statistical methods – based on the infamously named Yamnaya ancestral component, which is obviously still used here, too.

The end result is thus similar to any other simplistic 1990s Gimbutas (or rather the recently radicalized IE Sredni Stog -> Corded Ware -> BBC version by the Danish workgroup) + 2000s R1a-map + 2010s Yamnaya ancestry; but, hard to believe, it is published in mid-2018. A lot of hours of senseless effort, because after its publication it becomes ipso facto outdated.

For comparison of Yamna and Bell Beaker expansions, here is a recent simplistic, static (and yet more accurate) pair of maps, from the Reich Lab:

Cultural maps from Eneolithic and Chalcolithic cultures in Wang et al. (2018).

If the Copenhagen group keeps on pushing Gimbutas’ long ago outdated IE Sredni Stog -> Corded Ware theory as modified by Kristiansen, with their recently invented Corded Ware -> Bell Beaker model in genetics, at some point they are bound to clash with the Reich-Jena team, which seems to have less attachment to the classic Kurgan model and the wrong interpretations of the 2015 papers, and that would be something to behold. Because, as Cersei would say: “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.” And when you play the game of credibility, after so many, so wrong publications, well…

NOTE. I have been working on a similar GIS tool for quite some time, using my own maps and compiled genetic data, which I currently only use for my 2018 revision of the Indo-European demic diffusion model. Maybe within some weeks or months I will be able to publish the maps properly, after the revised papers. It’s a pitty that so much work on GIS and analysis with genetic data and cultural regions has to be duplicated, but I intend to keep some decent neutrality in my revised cultural maps, and this seems impossible at this point with some workgroups who have put all their eggs in one broken basket…


Mitogenomes from the middle of the Merovingian period in the Lorraine region


Investigating the kinship between individuals deposited in exceptional Merovingian multiple burials through aDNA analysis: The case of Hérange burial 41 (Northeast France), by Deguilloux et al. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports (2018) 20:784-790.

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

The Merovingian period in Northeast France (developing from 440/450 to 700/710 CE; Legoux et al., 2004) represents [a case of multiple burial], where a large majority of the types of deposits encountered consists of individual burials. In this context, whereas hundreds of individual burials are known, the syntheses recently conducted have enabled the inventory of only six multiple burials (Lefebvre and Lafosse, 2016). These observations naturally raised questions about the exceptional circumstances that led the members of the community to set up such unusual burials. The archaeological site of Hérange, excavated in 2014 (Lorraine, Grand Est region; Fig. S1), holds a key position in the debate surrounding the interpretation of multiple burials during the Merovingian period since it contains one of these rare multiple burials: burial 41, which was dated through archaeological material to the period 530–640 CE.

(…) The biological analysis of the human remains recovered in the second burial (“burial 41”) enabled the demonstration of the combined presence of a woman of approximately 40 years old (A) and three immature individuals, including a 4–5-year-old child (B), a 14–16-year-old teenager (C) and a 2,5–3-month-old infant (D) (Lefebvre and Lafosse, 2016) (Fig. 1). Since rare multiple burials described for the Merovingian period in Northeast France mainly contained two or rarely three deceased, the discovery of a burial grouping four individuals reinforced its exceptional nature. (…) Intriguingly, great care was observed in the treatment of the dead, as illustrated through a special arrangement of the deceased in the grave (Fig. 1). Indeed, the woman A occupied a central position in the grave, with her left arm covering part of the body of child D, her right arm covering the torso of child B and her right hand covering the legs of children B and C. Several arguments, such as the close contact or the imbrication of the bones of individuals A, B and C, have attested to the simultaneity of their deposits in the burial (Lefebvre and Lafosse, 2016).

Geographic distribution of the extant European individuals sharing mitochondrial haplotypes with the Hérange human remains.

Interestingly, studies have demonstrated an important chronological homogeneity for the rare multiple burials discovered for the Merovingian period in the Lorraine region (Lefebvre and Lafosse, 2016). The collected data support the existence of an epiphenomenon arisen around the middle of the Merovingian period and that may have linked the multiple burials to (i) a funerary “fashion trend” for a special group of the community, (ii) an increase in cases of violence or (iii) an epidemic crisis linked to infectious disease. In other Lorraine sites, none of the available indices permitted the specification of the cause of death for the individuals recovered in these specific burials. The deceased could well have died of natural causes, violent acts or infectious diseases that had left no visible evidence on the skeletal.

Nuclear data (Y chromosome SNPs and nuclear STRs) typed on the four Hérange human remains (STRs alleles shown in grey were not fully replicated).

The aDNA analyses conducted on the four individuals discovered in the exceptional multiple burial 41 from Hérange (Lorraine) have demonstrated strong biological links between three individuals. Notably, we could propose that the woman A was the mother of the two immatures B and D deposited just besides her whereas she was not genetically closely related to the teenager C deposited along her legs. Consequently, we propose that the special arrangement of the deceased in the grave clearly reflected the degree of biological links between the deposited individuals. In Hérange, the bereaved were well aware of kinship among the deceased, wanted to express this close linkage through their relative location within the burial, and intentionally arranged body positions consequently. In conclusion, the collected archaeological, archaeo-anthropological and genetic data suggest that the special setup of the multiple burial 41 in the Hérange necropolis and the great care in the treatment of the dead, could be explained by the contemporaneous death of the four related individuals. Data gathered for other archaeological sites from the region or in Germany suggested an epidemic crisis (plague epidemic?) during the middle of the Merovingian period that may explain the contemporaneous death of related individuals living in close contact and easily sharing pathogens.


Reported mtDNA haplogroups include U* for samples A, B, and D, and H for sample C.


Kortlandt: West Indo-Europeans along the Danube, Germanic and Balto-Slavic share a Corded Ware substrate


New paper (behind paywall) The Expansion of the Indo-European Languages, by Frederik Kortlandt, JIES (2018) 46(1 & 2):219-231.


When considering the way the Indo-Europeans took to the west, it is important to realize that mountains, forests and marshlands were prohibitive impediments. Moreover, people need fresh water, all the more so when traveling with horses. The natural way from the Russian steppe to the west is therefore along the northern bank of the river Danube. This leads to the hypothesis that the western Indo-Europeans represent successive waves of migration along the Danube and its tributaries. The Celts evidently followed the Danube all the way to southern Germany. The ancestors of the Italic tribes, including the Veneti, may have followed the river Sava towards northern Italy. The ancestors of Germanic speakers apparently moved into Moravia and Bohemia and followed the Elbe into Saxony. A part of the Veneti may have followed them into Moravia and moved along the Oder through the Moravian Gate into Silesia. The hypothetical speakers of Temematic probably moved through Slovakia along the river Orava into western Galicia. The ancestors of speakers of Balkan languages crossed the lower Danube and moved to the south. This scenario is in agreement with the generally accepted view of the earliest relations between these branches of Indo-European.

The western Indo-European vocabulary in Baltic and Slavic is the result of an Indo-European substratum which contained an older non-Indo-European layer and was part of the Corded Ware horizon. The numbers show that a considerable part of the vocabulary was borrowed after the split between Baltic and Slavic, which came about when their speakers moved westwards north and south of the Pripet marshes. These events are older than the westward movement of the Slavs which brought them into contact with Temematic speakers. One may conjecture that the Venedi occupied the Oder basin and then expanded eastwards over the larger part of present-day Poland before the western Balts came down the river Niemen and moved onwards to the lower Vistula. We may then identify the Venedic expansion with the spread of the Corded Ware horizon and the westward migration of the Balts and the Slavs with their integration into the larger cultural complex. The theory that the Venedi separated from the Veneti in the upper Sava region and moved through Moravia and Silesia to the Baltic Sea explains the “im Namenmaterial auffällige Übereinstimmung zwischen dem Baltikum und den Gebieten um den Nordteil der Adria” (Udolph 1981: 61). The Balts probably moved in two stages because the differences between West and East Baltic are considerable.

Instead of reinterpreting his views in light of the recent genetic finds, Kortlandt tries to mix in this paper his own old theories (see his paper Baltic, Slavic, Germanic) with the recent interpretations of genetic papers, using also dubious secondary sources – e.g. Iversen and Kroonen (2017) or Klejn (2017) [see here, and here] – which, in my opinion, creates a potentially dangerous circular reasoning.

For example, even though he criticizes the general stance of recent genetic papers with regard to Proto-Indo-European dialectalization and expansion as too early, and he supports the Danube expansion route, he nevertheless follows their interpretations in accepting that Corded Ware was Indo-European (following the newest model proposed by Anthony):

The [Yamnaya] penetrated central and northern Europe from the lower Danube through the Carpathian basin, not from the east. The Carpathian basis was evidently the cradle of the Corded Ware cultures, where the descendants of the Yamnaya mixed with the local early farmers before proceeding to the north. The development has a clear parallel in the Middle Ages, when the Hungarians mixed with the local Slavic populations in the same territory (cf. Kushniarevich & al. 2015).

He still follows his good old Indo-Slavonic group in the east, but at the same time maintains Kallio’s view that there were no early Uralic loanwords in Balto-Slavic, and also Kallio’s (and the general) view that there were close contacts with PIE and Pre-Proto-Indo-Iranian…

NOTE. The latest paper on Eurasian migrations by Damgaard et al. (Nature 2018), which shows mainly Proto-Iranians dominating over East Europe after the Early Bronze Age, have left still fewer space for a Proto-Balto-Slavic group emerging from the east.

Also, he asserts the following, which is a rather weird interpretation of events:

It appears that the Corded Ware horizon spread to southern Scandinavia (cf. Iversen & Kroonen 2017) but not to the Baltic region during the Neolithic.

“However, we also find indications of genetic impact from exogenous populations during the Neolithic, most likely from northern Eurasia and the Pontic Steppe. These influences are distinct from the Anatolian-farmer-related gene flow found in Central Europe during this period.”

It follows that the Indo-Europeans did not reach the Baltic region before the Late Neolithic. The influx of non-local people from northern Eurasia may be identified with the expansion of the Finno-Ugrians, who came into contact with the Indo-Europeans as a result of the eastward expansion of the latter in the fourth millennium. This was long before the split between Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian.

In the Late Neolithic there was “a further population movement into the regions surrounding the Baltic Sea” that was “accompanied by the first evidence of extensive animal husbandry in the Eastern Baltic”, which “suggests import of the new economy by an incoming steppe-like population independent of the agricultural societies that were already established to the south and west of the Baltic Sea.” (Mittnik & al. 2018). These may have been the ancestors of Balto-Slavic speakers. At a later stage, the Corded Ware horizon spread eastward, giving rise to farming ancestry in Eastern Baltic individuals and to a female gene-flow from the Eastern Baltic into Central Europe (ibidem).

Late Copper Age migrations in Asia ca. 2800-2300 BC.

He is a strong Indo-Uralic supporter, and supports a parallel Indo-European – Uralic development in Eastern Europe, and (as you can read) he misunderstands the description of population movements in the Baltic region, and thus misplaces Finno-Ugric speakers as Eurasian migrants arriving in the Baltic from the east during the Late Neolithic, before the Corded Ware expansion, which is not what the cited papers implied.

NOTE. Such an identification of westward Neolithic migrations with Uralic speakers is furthermore to be rejected following the most recent paper on Fennoscandian samples.

He had previously asserted that the substrate common to Germanic and Balto-Slavic is Indo-European with non-Indo-European substrate influence, so I guess that Corded Ware influencing as a substrate both Germanic and Balto-Slavic is the best way he could put everything together, if one assumes the widespread interpretations of genetic papers:

Thus, I think that the western Indo-European vocabulary in Baltic and Slavic is the result of an Indo-European substratum which contained an older non-Indo-European layer and was part of the Corded Ware horizon. The numbers show that a considerable part of the vocabulary was borrowed after the split between Baltic and Slavic, (…)

NOTE. It is very likely that this paper was sent in late 2017. That’s the main problem with traditional publications including the most recent genetic investigation: by the time something gets eventually published, the text is already outdated.

I obviously share his opinion on precedence of disciplines in Indo-European studies:

The methodological point to be emphasized here is that the linguistic evidence takes precedence over archaeological and genetic data, which give no information about the languages spoken and can only support the linguistic evidence. The relative chronology of developments must be established on the basis of the comparative method and internal reconstruction. The location of a reconstructed language can only be established on the basis of lexical and onomastic material. On the other hand, archaeological or genetic data may supply the corresponding absolute chronology. It is therefore incorrect to attribute cultural influences in southern Scandinavia and the Baltic region in the third millennium to Germanic or Baltic speakers because these languages did not yet exist. While the Italo-Celtic branch may have separated from its Indo-European neighbors in the first half of the third millennium, Proto-Balto-Slavic and Proto-Indo-Iranian can be dated to the second millennium and Proto-Germanic to the end of the first millennium BC (cf. Kortlandt 2010: 173f., 197f., 249f.). The Indo-Europeans who moved to southern Scandinavia as part of the Corded Ware horizon were not the ancestors of Germanic speakers, who lived farther to the south, but belonged to an unknown branch that was eventually replaced by Germanic.

I hope we can see more and more anthropological papers like this, using traditional linguistics coupled with archaeology and the most recent genetic investigations.

EDIT (4 JUL 2018): Some errors corrected.