“Steppe ancestry” step by step (2019): Mesolithic to Early Bronze Age Eurasia

yamnaya-gac-maykop-corded-ware-bell-beaker

The recent update on the Indo-Anatolian homeland in the Middle Volga region and its evolution as the Indo-Tocharian homeland in the Don–Volga area as described in Anthony (2019) has, at last, a strong scientific foundation, as it relies on previous linguistic and archaeological theories, now coupled with ancient phylogeography and genomic ancestry.

There are still some inconsistencies in the interpretation of the so-called “Steppe ancestry”, though, despite the one and a half years that have passed since we first had access to the closest Pontic–Caspian steppe source populations. Even my post “Steppe ancestry” step by step from a year ago is already outdated.

Admixture

The population selection process for models shown below included (1) plausibility of potential influences in the particular geographic and archaeological context; (2) looking for their clusters or particular samples in the PCA; and (3) testing with qpAdm for potential source populations that might have been involved in their development.

The results and graphics posted are therefore intended to simplistically show potential admixture events between populations potentially close to the actual sources of the target samples, whenever such mating networks could be supported by archaeology.

NOTE. This is an informal post and I am not a geneticist, so I am turning this flexibility to my advantage. If any reader is – for some strange reason – looking for a strict hypothesis testing, for the use of a full set of formal stats (as used e.g. in Ning et al. 2019 for Proto-Tocharians), and correctly redacted and peer-reviewed text, this is not the right place to find them.

spatial-pedigree-geographic-admixture
An example pedigree (a) of a focal individual sampled in the modern day, placed in its geographic context to make the spatial pedigree (b). Dashed lines denote matings, and solid lines denote parentage, with red hues for the maternal ancestors and blue hues for the paternal ancestors. In the spatial pedigree, each plane represents a sampled region in a discrete (nonoverlapping) generation, and each dot shows the birth location of an individual. The pedigree of the focal individual is highlighted back through time and across space. Image modified from Bradburd and Ralph (2019).

Despite the natural impulse to draw straight mixture trajectories (see e.g. Wang et al. 2019), simply adding or subtracting samples used for a PCA shows how the plot is affected by different variables (see e.g. what happens by including more South Asian samples to the PCA below), hence the need to draw curved arrows – not necessarily representing a sizable drift; at least not in recent prehistoric admixture events for which we have a reasonable chronological transect.

reich-arrows-admixture-neolithic-bronze-age
Representation of mixture events between European prehistoric peoples in the PCA. Image modified from David Reich‘s Who We Are and How We Got Here (2018).

Ethnolinguistic identification is a risky business that brings back memories of an evil use of cultural history and its consequences (at least in Western Europe, where this tradition was discontinued after WWII), but it seems necessary for those of us who want to find some confirmation of proposed dialectal schemes and language contacts.

Eneolithic Steppe vs. Steppe Maykop

First things first: I tested Bronze Age Eurasian peoples for the only two true steppe populations sampled to date, as potential sources of their “Steppe ancestry” – conventionally described as an EHG:CHG admixture, similar to that found in the first sampled Yamnaya individuals. I used the rightpops of Wang et al. (2018), but with a catch: since authors used WHG as a leftpop and Villabruna as a rightpop, and I find that a little inconsequential*, I preferred the strategy in Ning et al. (2019), contrasting as outgroup Eneolithic_Steppe (ca. 4300 BC) vs. Steppe_Maykop (ca. 3500 BC) when testing for WHG as a source population.

*WHG usually includes samples from a ‘western’ cluster (Loschbour and La Braña) and an ‘eastern’ cluster (Villabruna and Koros), see Lipson et al. (2017). Therefore, it doesn’t make much sense to include the same (or a very similar) population as a source AND an outgroup.

NOTE. For all other qpAdm analyses below, where WHG was not used as leftpop, I have used Villabruna as rightpop following Wang et al. (2019).

greater-caucasus-steppe-ancestry
Map of samples and sites mentioned in Wang et al. (2019), modified from the original to include labels of Eneolithic_Steppe and Steppe_Maykop samples. See PCA and ADMIXTURE grahpic for the identification of specific samples.

Results are not much different from what has been reported. In general, Yamnaya and related groups such as Bell Beakers and Steppe-related Chalcolithic/Bronze Age populations show good fits for Eneolithic_Steppe as their closest source for Steppe ancestry, and bad fits for Steppe_Maykop, whereas Corded Ware groups show the opposite, supporting their known differences.

This trend seems to be tempered in some groups, though, most likely due the influence of Samara_LN-like admixture in Circum-Baltic Late Neolithic and Eastern Corded Ware groups, and the influence of Anatolia_N/EEF-like admixture in Balkan and late European CWC or BBC groups. In fact, the more EEF-related ancestry in a populatoin, the less reliable these generic models (and even specific ones) seem to become when distinguishing the Steppe-related source.

NOTE. For more on this, see the discussion on Circum-Baltic Corded Ware peoples, and the discussion on Mycenaeans and their potential source populations.

These are just broad strokes of what might have happened around the Pontic–Caspian steppes before and during the Early Bronze Age expansions. The most relevant quest right now for Indo-European studies is to ascertain the chain of admixture events that led to the development and expansion of Indo-Uralic and its offshoots, Indo-European and Uralic.

mesolithic-eastern-europe-post-swiderian
Eastern European Mesolithic with the expansion of Post-Swiderian cultures. See full map.

A history of Steppe ancestry

This post is divided in (more or less accurate) chronological developments as follows:

  1. Hunter-gatherer pottery and the steppes
  2. Khvalynsk and Sredni Stog
  3. Post-Stog and Proto-Corded Ware
  4. Yamnaya and Afanasievo

1. Hunter-gatherer pottery and the steppes

I laid out in the ASOSAH book series the general idea – based on attempts to reconstruct the linguistic ancestor of Indo-Uralic – that Eurasiatic speakers might have expanded with the North-Eastern Techno-Complex that spread through north-eastern Europe during the warm period represented by the transition of the Palaeolithic to the Mesolithic.

If one were to trust the traditional migrationist view, a post-Swiderian population expanded from central-eastern Europe (potentially related originally to Epi-Gravettian peoples, represented by WHG ancestry) into north-eastern Europe, and then further east into the Trans-Urals, to then reappear in eastern Europe as a back-migration represented by the spread of hunter-gatherer pottery.

The marked shift from WHG-like towards EHG-related ancestry from Baltic Mesolithic (ca. 30%) to Combed Ware cultures (ca. 65%-100%) supports this continuous westward expansion, that is possibly best represented in the currently available sampling by the ‘south-eastern’ shift (CHG:ANE-related) of the hunter-gatherer from Lebyazhinka IV (5600 BC) relative to the older one from Sidelkino (9300 BC), both from the Samara region in the Middle Volga:

Mesolithic-Neolithic transition ca. 7000-6000 BC, with hunter-gatherer pottery groups spreading westwards. See full map.

From Anthony (2019):

Along the banks of the lower Volga many excavated hunting-fishing camp sites are dated 6200-4500 BC. They could be the source of CHG ancestry in the steppes. At about 6200 BC, when these camps were first established at Kair-Shak III and Varfolomievka, they hunted primarily saiga antelope around Dzhangar, south of the lower Volga, and almost exclusively onagers in the drier desert-steppes at Kair-Shak, north of the lower Volga. Farther north at the lower/middle Volga ecotone, at sites such as Varfolomievka and Oroshaemoe hunter-fishers who made pottery similar to that at Kair-Shak hunted onagers and saiga antelope in the desert-steppe, horses in the steppe, and aurochs in the riverine forests. Finally, in the Volga steppes north of Saratov and near Samara, hunter-fishers who made a different kind of pottery (Samara type) and hunted wild horses and red deer definitely were EHG. A Samara hunter-gatherer of this era buried at Lebyazhinka IV, dated 5600-5500 BC, was one of the first named examples of the EHG genetic type (Haak et al. 2015). This individual, like others from the same region, had no or very little CHG ancestry. The CHG mating network had not yet reached Samara by 5500 BC.

Given the lack of a proper geographical and chronological transect of ancient DNA from eastern European groups, and the discontinuous appearance of both R1b-M73 and R1b-M269 lineages on both sides of the Urals within the WHG:ANE cline, where EHG appears to have formed, it is impossible at this point to assert anything with enough degree of certainty. For simplicity purposes, though, I risked to equate the expansion of R1b-M73 in West Siberia as potentially associated with Micro-Altaic, and the expansion of hg. R1b-M269 with the spread of Indo-Uralic on both sides of the Urals.

NOTE. For incrementally speculative associations of languages with prehistoric cultures and their potential link to ancestry ± haplogroup expansions, you can check sections on Early Indo-Europeans and Uralians, Indo-Uralians, Altaic peoples, Eurasians, or Nostratians. I explained why I made these simplistic choices here.

While this identification of the Indo-Uralic expansion with hg. R1b is more or less straightforward for the Cis-Urals, given the available ancient DNA samples, it will be very difficult (if at all possible) to trace the migration of these originally R1b-M269-rich populations into Trans-Uralian groups that could eventually be linked to Yukaghir speakers. The sheer number of potential admixture events and bottlenecks in Siberian forest, taiga, and tundra regions since the Mesolithic until Yukaghirs were first attested is guaranteed to give more than one headache in upcoming years…

neolithic-steppes-samara-mariupol
Spread of hunter-gatherer pottery in eastern Europe ca. 6000-5000 BC. See full map.

The slight increase in WHG-related ancestry in Ukraine Neolithic groups relative to Mesolithic ones questions the arrival of this eastern influence in the north Pontic area, or at least its relevance in genomic terms, although the cluster formed is similar to the previous one and to Combed Ware groups – despite the Central European and Baltic influences in the north Pontic region – with some samples showing 0% change relative to Mesolithic groups.

ukraine-samara-mesolithic-neolithic-evolution
Structure and change in hunter-gatherer-related populations, from Mathieson et al. (2018). Inferred ancestry proportions for populations modelled as a mixture of WHG, EHG and CHG. Dashed lines show populations from the same geographic region. Percentages indicate proportion of WHG + EHG ancestry. Standard errors range from 1.5 to 8.3%.

NOTE. For more on Indo-Uralic and its reconstruction from a linguistic point of view, check out its dedicated section on ASOSAH, or the recently published (behind paywall) The Precursors of Proto-Indo-European, edited by Kloekhorst and Pronk, Brill (2019). Authors of specific chapters have posted their contributions to Academia.edu, where they can be downloaded for free.

2. Khvalynsk and Sredni Stog

The cluster formed by the three available samples of the Khvalynsk culture (early 5th millennium BC) might be described, as expected from its position in the PCA, as a mixture of EHG-like populations of the Middle Volga with CHG-like ancestry close to that represented by samples from Progress-2 and Vonyuchka, in the North Caucasus Piedmont (ca. 4300 BC):

This variable CHG-like admixture shown in the wide cluster formed by the available Khvalynsk-related samples support the interpretation of a recently created CHG mating network in Anthony (2019):

After 5000 BC domesticated animals appeared in these same sites in the lower Volga, and in new ones, and in grave sacrifices at Khvalynsk and Ekaterinovka. CHG genes and domesticated animals flowed north up the Volga, and EHG genes flowed south into the North Caucasus steppes, and the two components became admixed. After approximately 4500 BC the Khvalynsk archaeological culture united the lower and middle Volga archaeological sites into one variable archaeological culture that kept domesticated sheep, goats, and cattle (and possibly horses). In my estimation, Khvalynsk might represent the oldest phase of PIE.

steppe-ancestry-pca-neolithic-khvalynsk
Detail of the PCA of Eurasian samples, including Neolithic clusters with the hypothesized gene flows related to (1) the formation and (2) expansion of Khvalynsk and the (3) emergence of late Sredni Stog. See full image.

The richest copper assemblage found in all Khvalynsk burials belongs to an individual of hg. R1b-V1636 and intermediate Samara_HG:Eneolithic_Steppe ancestry, while full Eneolithic_Steppe-like admixture in the Middle Volga is represented by the commoner of Khvalynsk II, of hg. Q1. The finding of hg. R1b-V1636 in the North Caucasus Piedmont – and R1b-P297 in the Samara region (probably including Yekaterinovka) begs the question of the origin of hg. R1b-V1636 in the Khvalynsk community. Based on its absence in ancient samples from the forest zone, it is tempting to assign it to steppe hunter-gatherers down the Lower Volga and possibly to the east of it, who infiltrated the Samara region precisely during these population movements described by Anthony (2019).

Suvorovo-related samples from the Balkans, including the Varna and Smyadovo outliers of Steppe ancestry, are closely related to the Khvalynsk expansion:

Similarly, the ancestry of late Sredni Stog samples from Dereivka seem to be directly related to the expansion of Mariupol-like individuals over populations of Suvorovo-Novodanilovka-like admixture, as suggested by the resurgence of typical Ukraine Neolithic haplogroups, the shift in the PCA, and the models of Eneolithic_Steppe vs. Steppe_Maykop above:

#EDIT (11 Nov 2019): In fact, the position of the unpublished Greece_Neolithic outlier that appeared in the Wang et al. (2018) preprint (see full PCA and ADMIXTURE) show that the expanding Suvorovo chiefs from the Balkans formed a tight cluster close to the two published outliers with Steppe ancestry from Bulgaria.

The Ukraine_Neolithic outlier, possibly a Novodanilovka-related sample suggests, based on its position in the PCA close to the late Trypillian outlier of Steppe-related ancestry, that Ukraine_Eneolithic samples from Dereivka are a mixture of Ukraine_Neolithic and a Novodanilovka-like community similar to Suvorovo.

The Trypillian_Eneolithic-like admixture found among Proto-Corded Ware peoples (see below) would then feature potentially a small Steppe_Eneolithic-like component already present in the north Pontic area, too.

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

Furthermore, whereas Anthony (2019) mentions a long-lasting predominance of hg. R1b in elite graves of the Eneolithic Volga basin, not a single sample of hg. R1a is mentioned supporting the community formed by the Alexandria individual, supposedly belonging to late Sredni Stog groups, but with a Corded Ware-like genetic profile (suggesting yet again that it is possibly a wrongly dated sample).

NOTE. A lack of first-hand information rather than an absence of R1a-M417 samples in the north Pontic forest-steppes would not be surprising, since Anthony is involved in the archaeology of the Middle Volga, but not in that of the north Pontic area.

eneolithic-pontic-caspian-steppe-khvalynsk-novodanilovka-suvorovo
Khvalynsk expansion through the Pontic–Caspian steppes in the early 5th millennium BC. See full map.

3. Post-Stog and Proto-Corded Ware

The origin of the Pre-Corded Ware ancestry is still a mystery, because of the heterogeneity of the sampled groups to date, and because the only ancestral sample that had a compatible genetic profile – I6561 from Alexandria – shows some details that make its radiocarbon date rather unlikely.

The most likely explanation for the closest source population of Corded Ware groups, found in the three core samples of Steppe_Maykop and in Trypillian Eneolithic samples from the first half of the 4th millennium BC, is still that a population of north Pontic forest-steppe hunter-gatherers hijacked this kind of ancestry, that was foreign to the north Pontic region before the Late Eneolithic period, later expanding east and west through the Podolian–Volhynian upland, due to the complex population movements of the Late Eneolithic.

NOTE. The idea of Trypillia influencing the formation of the Steppe_MLBA ancestry proper of Uralic peoples has been around for quite some time already, since the publication of Narasimhan et al. (2018) (see here or here).

steppe-ancestry-pca-corded-ware-bronze-age
Detail of the PCA of Eurasian samples, including Corded Ware groups and related clusters, as well as outliers, with hypothesized gene flows related to the (1) formation and (2) initial expansion of Pre-Corded Ware ancestry, as well as (3) later regional admixture events. See full image.

The specifics of how the Proto-Corded Ware community emerged remain unclear at this point, despite the simplistic description by Rassamakin (1999) of the Late Eneolithic north Pontic population movements as a two-stage migration of 1) late Trypillian groups (Usatovo) west → east, and (2) Late Maykop–Novosvobodnaya east → west. So, for example, Manzura (2016) on the Zhivotilovka “cultural-historical horizon” (emphasis mine):

Indeed, the very complex combination of different cultural traits in the burial sites of the Zhivotilovka type is able to generate certain problems in the search for the origins of this phenomenon. The only really consistent attribute is the burial rite in contracted position on the left or right side. Yu. Rassamakin is correct in asserting that this position of the deceased can be considered as new in the North Pontic region (Rassamakin 1999, 97). However, this opinion can be accepted only partially for the territory between Dniester and Lower Don. This position is well known in the Usatovo culture in the Northwest Pontic region, although skeletons on the right side are evidenced there only in double burials, whereas single burials contain the deceased only in a contracted position on the left side. On the other hand, the southern and western orientation of the deceased, which is one of the main burial traits of the Zhivotilovka type, is not characteristic of the Usatovo culture. Nevertheless, it is possible to suppose that at least part of the Usatovo population could have played a part in the formation of the cultural type under consideration here. One aspect of this cultural tradition, for instance, could be represented by skeletons on the left side and oriented in north-eastern and eastern directions.

Especially close ties can be traced between the Zhivotilovka and Maykop-Novosvobodnaya traditions, as exemplified by similar burial customs and various grave goods. It is beyond any doubt that the Maykop-Novosvobodnaya population was actively involved in the spread of the main Zhivotilovka cultural traits. The influence of North Caucasian traditions can be well observed, at least as far as the Dnieper Basin, but farther west influence is not manifested pronouncedly. The role of cultural units situated between the Dniester and Don rivers in the process of emergence of the Zhivotilovka type looks somewhat vague. Now, it can be quite confidently asserted that at the end of the 4th millennium BC this territory was settled by migrants from the North Caucasus and Carpathian-Dniester region. This event in theory had to stimulate cultural transformations in the Azov-Black Sea steppes and, thus, bearers of local cultural traditions perhaps could have participated in forming the culture under consideration. In any event, the Zhivotilovka type can be regarded as a complex phenomenon that emerged within the regime of intensive cultural dialogue and that it absorbed totally diff erent cultural traditions. The spread of the Zhivotilovka graves across the Pontic steppes from the Carpathians to the Lower Don or even to the Kuban Basin clearly signalizes a rapid dissolution of former cultural borders and the beginning of active movements of people, things and ideas over vast territories.

zhivotilovka-horizon-north-pontic-area

What were the factors or reasons that could have provoked this event? In the beginning of the second half of the 4th millennium BC two advanced cultural centers emerged in the south of Eastern Europe. These were the Maykop-Novosvobodnaya and Usatovo cultures, which in spite of their separation by great distances were structurally very alike. This is expressed in similar monumental burial architecture, complex burial rites, even the composition of grave goods, developed bronze metallurgy, high standards of material culture, etc. Both cultures in a completely formed state exemplify prosperous societies with a high level of economic and social organization, which can correspond to the type of ranked or early complex societies. Normally, the social elite in such polities tends to rigidly control basic domains social, economic and spiritual life using different mechanisms, even open compulsion (Earle 1987, 294-297). To some extent similar social entities can be found at this moment in the forest-steppe zone of the Carpathian-Dniester region, as reflected by the well organized settlement of Brânzeni III and the Vykhatitsy cemetery (Маркевич 1981; Дергачев 1978). In spite of their complex character, such societies represent rather friable structures, which could rapidly disintegrate due to unfavourable inner or external factors.

The societies in question emerged and existed during a time of favourable natural climatic conditions, which is considered to be a transitional period from the Atlantic to the Subboreal period, lasting approximately from 3600 to 3300 cal BC, or a climatic optimum for the steppe zone (Иванова и др. 2011, 108; Спиридонова, Алешинская 1999, 30-31). These conditions to a large degree could guarantee a stable exploitation of basic resources and support existing social hierarchies. However, after 3300 cal BC significant climatic changes occurred, accompanied by an increasing aridization and fall in temperature. This event is usually termed the “Piora oscillation” or “Rapid Climatic Event”, and is regarded as having been of global character (Magny, Haas 2004). These rapid changes could have seriously disturbed existing economic and social relations and finally provoked a similar rapid disintegration of complex social structures. In this case the sites of the Zhivotilovka type could represent mere fragments of former prosperous societies, which under conditions of the absence of centralized social control and stable cultural borders tried to recombine social and economic ties. However, the population possessed the necessary social experience and important technological resources, such as developed stock-breeding based on the breeding of small cattle and wheeled transport, so they were ready for opening new territories in their search for a better life.

maykop-trypillia-intrusion-steppes
Disintegration, migration, and imports of the Azov–Black Sea region. First migration event (solid arrows): Gordineşti–Maikop expansion (groups: I – Bursuchensk; II – Zhyvotylivka; III – Vovchans’k; IV – Crimean; V – Lower Don; VI – pre-Kuban). Second migration event (hollow arrows): Repin expansion. After Rassamakin (1999), Demchenko (2016).

For more on chronology and the potentially larger, longer-lasting Zhivotilovka–Volchansk–Gordineşti cultural horizon and its expansion through the Podolian–Volhynian upland, read e.g. on the Yampil Complex in the latest volume 22 of Baltic-Pontic Studies (2017):

In the forest-steppe zone of the North-West Pontic area, important data concerning the chronological position of the Zhivotilovka-Volchansk group have been produced by the exploration of the Bursuceni kurgan, which is still awaiting full publication [Yarovoy 1978; cf. also Demcenko 2016; Manzura 2016]. Burials linked with the mentioned group were stratigraphically the eldest in the kurgan, and pre-dated a burial in the extended position and [Yamnaya culture] graves. Two of these burials (features 20 and 21) produced radiocarbon dates falling around 3350-3100 BC [Petrenko, Kovaliukh 2003: 108, Tab. 7]. Similar absolute age determinations were obtained for Podolia kurgans at Prydnistryanske [Goslar et al. 2015]. These dates, falling within the Late Eneolithic, mark the currently oldest horizon of kurgan burials in the forest-steppe zone of the North-West Pontic area. The Podolia graves linked with other, older traditions of the steppe Eneolithic seem to represent a slightly later horizon dated to the transition between the Late Eneolithic and Early Bronze Age.

The presence on the left bank of the Dniester River of kurgans associated with the Eneolithic tradition, which at the same time reveals connections with the Gordineşti-Kasperovce-Horodiştea complex, raises questions about the western range of the new trend in funerary rituals, and its potential connection with the expansion of the late Trypilia culture to the West Podolia and West Volhynia Regions. The data potentially suggesting the attribution of kurgans from the upper Dniester basin to this period is patchy and difficult to verify [e.g. Liczkowce – see Sulimirski 1968: 173]. In this context, the discovery of vessels in the Gordineşti style in a kurgan at Zawisznia near Sokal is inspiring [Antoniewicz 1925].

zhivotilovka-volchansk-burial-podolia
Burials representing funerary traditions of Zhivotilovka-Volchansk group in Podolie kurgans: 1 – Porohy, grave 3A/7, 2 – Kuzmin, grave 2/2 [after Klochko et al. 2015b, Bubulich, Khakhey 2001]

Another interesting aspect of potential source populations, in combination with those above for Eneolithic_Steppe vs. Steppe_Maykop, are groups with worse fits for Steppe_Maykop_core, which include Potapovka and Srubnaya, as reported by Wang et al. (2018), but also Sintastha_MLBA (although not Andronovo). This is compatible with the long-term admixture of Abashevo chiefs dominating over a majority of Poltavka-like herders in the Don-Volga-Ural steppes during the formation of the Sintashta-Potapovka-Filatovka community, also visible in the typical Yamnaya lineages and Yamnaya-like ancestry still appearing in the region centuries after the change in power structures had occurred.

NOTE. If you feel tempted to test for mixtures of Khvalynsk_EN, Eneolithic_Steppe, Yamnaya, etc. as a source population for Corded Ware, go for it, but it’s almost certain to give similar ‘good’ fits – whatever the model – in some Corded Ware groups and not in others. It is still unclear, as far as I know, how to formally distinguish a mixture of Corded Ware-related from a Yamnaya-related source in the same model, and the results obtained with a combination of Steppe_Maykop-related + Eneolithic_Steppe-related sources will probably artificially select either one or the other source, as it probably happened in Ning et al. (2019) with Proto-Tocharian samples (see qpAdm values) that most likely had a contribution of both, based on their known intense interactions in the Tarim Basin.

eneolithic-pontic-caspian-steppes-east-europe
Expansion of north Pontic cultures and related groups during the Late Eneolithic. See full map.

#EDIT (22 NOV 2019): New preprint Gene-flow from steppe individuals into Cucuteni-Trypillia associated populations indicates long-standing contacts and gradual admixture, by Immel et al. bioRxiv (2019), on Gordinești samples from Moldova ca. 3500-3100 BC. Relevant excerpts (emphasis mine):

A principal component analysis of the four Moldova females together with previously published data sets of ancient Eurasians showed that Gordinești, Pocrovca 1 and Pocrovca 3 grouped with later dating Bell Beakers from Germany and Hungary close to the four CTC males from Verteba, while Pocrovca 2 fell into the LBK cluster next to Neolithic farmers from Anatolia and Starčevo individual.

When looking at various proxies for steppe-related ancestry (Yamnaya Samara, Ukraine Mesolithic, Caucasian hunter-gatherer (CHG), Eastern hunter gatherer (EHG)), we did not observe any significant difference in genetic influx from either Yamnaya Samara, EHG or Ukraine Mesolithic. However, relative to CHG, we detected a substantial shift towards Yamnaya Samara steppe-related ancestry. Consequently, Yamnaya Samara, Ukraine Mesolithic and EHG appear to be equally suitable proxies for steppe-related ancestry in the Moldovan CTC individuals.

We did not obtain feasible models when running qpAdm on the X-chromosome in order to test for male-biased admixture from hunter-gatherers or individuals with steppe-related ancestry.

It is not surprising that Gordinești, Pocrovca 1 and Pocrovca 3 showed genetic affinities with later dating Bronze Age or Bell Beaker individuals. The common link among them is the considerable steppe-related ancestry, which each group likely received independently from different parental populations.

pca-trypillia-verteba-pocrovka-gordinesti
Principal component analysis of the CTC individuals from Moldova (Gordinești, Pocrovca 1, Pocrovca 2, Pocrovca 3) in red and the CTC individuals from Verteba Cave (I1926, I2110, I2111, I3151) in blue together with 23 selected ancient populations/individuals projected onto a basemap of 58 modern-day West Eurasian populations (not shown). HG=hunter-gatherer, LBK=Linearbandkeramik, PU=Proto-Unetice, TRB=Trichterbecher (Funnel Beaker Culture, FBC). PC1 is shown on the x-axis and PC2 on the y-axis.

4. Yamnaya and Afanasievo

I don’t think it makes much sense to test for GAC (or Iberia_CA, for that matter) as Wang et al. (2019) did, given the implausibility of them taking part in the formation of late Repin during the mid-4th millennium BC around the Don-Volga interfluve (represented by its offshoots Yamnaya and Afanasievo), whether these or other EEF-related populations show ‘better’ fits or not. Therefore, I only tested for more or less straightforward potential source populations:

steppe-ancestry-pca-yamnaya-hungary-bulgaria-vucedol
Detail of the PCA of Eurasian samples, including Yamnaya groups and related clusters, as well as outliers, with hypothesized gene flows related to its (1) formation and (2) expansion. Also included is the inferred position of the admixed sample Yamnaya_Hungary_EBA1. See full image.

Quite unexpectedly – for me, at least – it appears that Afanasievo and Yamnaya invariably prefer Khvalynsk_EN as the closest source rather than a combination including Eneolithic_Steppe directly. In other words, late Repin shows largely genetic continuity with the Steppe ancestry already shown by the three sampled individuals from the Khvalynsk II cemetery, in line with the known strong bottlenecks of Khvalynsk-related groups under R1b lineages, visible also later in Afanasievo and Yamnaya and derived Indo-European-speaking groups under R1b-L23 subclades.

NOTE. This explains better the reported bad fits of models using directly Eneolithic_Steppe instead of Khvalynsk_EN for Afanasievo and Yamnaya Kalmykia, as is readily evident from the results above, instead of a rejection of an additional contribution to an Eneolithic_Steppe-like population, as I interpreted it, based on Anthony (2019).

repin-zhivotilovka-north-pontic-steppe
Map of major sites of the Zhivotilovka-Volchansk group (A) and Repin culture (B), by Rassamakin (see 1994 and 2013). (A) 1 – Primorskoye; 2 – Vasilevka; 3 – Aleksandrovka; 4 – Boguslav; 5 – Pavlograd; 6 – Zhivotilovka; 7 – Podgorodnoye; 8 – Novomoskovsk; 9- Sokolovo; 10 – Dneprelstan; 11- Razumovka; 12 – Pologi; 13 – Vinogradnoye; 14 – Novo-Filipovka; 15 – Volchansk; 16 – Yuryevka; 17 – Davydovka; 18 – Novovorontsovka; 19 – Ust-Kamenka; 20 – Staroselye; 21- Velikaya Aleksandrovka; 22- Kovalevka; 23 – Tiraspol; 24 – Cura-Bykuluy; 25 – Roshkany; 26 – Tarakliya; 27 – Kazakliya; 28 – Bolgrad; 29 – Sarateny; 30 – Bursucheny; 31 – Novye Duruitory; 232 – Kosteshty. (B) 1 – Podgorovka; 2 – Aleksandria; 3 – Volonterovka; 4 – Zamozhnoye; 5 – Kremenevka; 6 – Ogorodnoye; 7 – Boguslav; 8 – Aleksandrovka; 9 – Verkhnaya Mayevka; 10 – Duma Skela; 11 – Zamozhnoye; 12 – Mikhailovka II.

This might suggest that the Steppe ancestry visible in samples from Progress-2 and Vonyuchka, sharing the same cluster with the Khvalynsk II cemetery commoner of hg. Q1, most likely represents North Caspian or Black Sea–Caspian steppe hunter-gatherer ancestry that increased as Khvalynsk settlers expanded to the south-west towards the Greater Caucasus, probably through female exogamy. That would mean that Steppe_Maykop potentially represents the ‘original’ ancestry of steppe hunter-gatherers of the North Caucasus steppes, which is also weakly supported by the available similar admixture of the Lola culture. The chronology, geographical location and admixture of both clusters seemed to indicate the opposite.

eneolithic-steppe-maykop-ehg-chg-ag2
Modelling results for the Steppe and Caucasus cluster. Additional ‘eastern’ AG-Siberian gene flow in Steppe Maykop relative to Eneolithic Steppe. From Wang et al. (2019).

Due to the limitations of the currently available sampling and statistical tools, and barring the dubious Alexandria outlier, it is unclear how much of the late Trypillian-related admixture of late Repin (as reflected in Yamnaya and Afanasievo) corresponds to late Trypillian, Post-Stog, or Proto-Corded Ware groups from the north Pontic area. A mutual exchange suggestive of a common mating network (also supported by the mixed results obtained when including Khvalynsk_EN as source for early Corded Ware groups) seem to be the strongest proof to date of the Late Proto-Indo-European – Uralic contacts reflected in the period when post-laryngeal vocabulary was borrowed (with some samples predating the merged laryngeal loss), before the period of intense borrowing from Pre- and Proto-Indo-Iranian.

Between-group differences of Yamnaya samples are caused – like those between Corded Ware groups – by the admixture of a rapidly expanding society through exogamy with regional populations, evidenced by the inconstant affinities of western or southern outliers for previous local populations of the west Pontic or Caucasus area. This explanation for the gradual increase in local admixture is also supported by the strong, long-term patrilineal system and female exogamy practiced among expanding Proto-Indo-Europeans.

chalcolithic-early-bronze-yamnaya-corded-ware-vucedol
Groups of the Yamnaya culture and its western expansion after ca. 3100 BC, and Corded Ware after ca. 2900 BC See full map.

Bell Beakers and Mycenaeans

This Eneolithic_Steppe ancestry is also found among Bell Beaker groups (see above). More specifically, all Bell Beaker groups prefer a source closest to a combination of Yamnaya from the Don and Baden LCA individuals from Hungary, rather than with Corded Ware and GAC, despite the quite likely admixture of western Yamnaya settlers with (1) south-eastern European (west Pontic, Balkan) Chalcolithic populations during their expansion through the Lower Danube and with (2) late Corded Ware groups (already admixed with GAC-like populations) during their expansion as East Bell Beakers:

Similarly, Mycenaeans show good fits for a source close to the Yamnaya outlier from Bulgaria:

steppe-ancestry-pca-bell-beakers-mycenaeans
Detail of the PCA of Eurasian samples, including Bell Beaker and Balkan EBA groups and related clusters, as well as outliers, including ancestral Yamnaya samples from Hungary (position inferred) and Bulgaria. Also marked are Minoans, Mycenaeans and Armenian BA samples. See full image.

You can read more on Yamnaya-related admixture of Bell Beakers and Mycenaeans, and on Afanasievo-related admixture of Iron Age Proto-Tocharians.

Conclusion

The use of the concept of “Yamnaya ancestry”, then “Steppe ancestry” (and now even “Yamnaya Steppe ancestry“?) has already permeated the ongoing research of all labs working with human population genomics. Somehow, the conventional use of Yamnaya_Samara samples opposed to a combination of other ancient samples – alternatively selected among WHG, EHG, CHG/Iran_N, Anatolia_N, or ANE – has spread and is now unquestionably accepted as one of the “three quite distinct” ancestral groups that admixed to form the ancestry of modern Europeans, which is a rather odd, simplistic and anachronistic description of prehistory…

It has now become evident that authors involved with the Proto-Indo-European homeland question – and the tightly intertwined one of the Proto-Uralic homeland – are going to dedicate a great part of the discussion of many future papers to correct or outright reject the conclusions of previous publications, instead of simply going forward with new data.

The most striking argument to mistrust the current use of “Steppe ancestry” (as an alternative name for Yamnaya_Samara, and not as ancestry proper of steppe hunter-gatherers) is not the apparent difference in direct Eneolithic sources of Steppe ancestry for Corded Ware and Yamnaya-related peoples – closer to the available samples classified as Steppe_Maykop and Eneolithic_Steppe, respectively – or their different evolution under marked Y-DNA bottlenecks.

It is not even the lack of information about the distant origin of these Pontic–Caspian steppe hunter-gatherers of the 5th and 4th millennium BC, with their shared ancestral component potentially separated during the warmer Palaeolithic-Mesolithic transition, when the steppes were settled, without necessarily sharing any meaningful recent history before the formation of the Proto-Indo-Uralic community.

NOTE. I have raised this question multiple times since 2017 (see e.g. here or here).

The most striking paradox about simplistically misinterpreting “Steppe ancestry” as representative of Indo-European expansions is that those sub-Neolithic Pontic–Caspian steppe hunter-gatherers that had this ancestry in the 6th millennium BC were probably non-Indo-European-speaking communities, most likely related to the North(West) Caucasian language family, based on the substrate of Indo-Anatolian that sets it apart from Uralic within the Indo-Uralic trunk, and on later contacts of Indo-Tocharian with North-West Caucasian and Kartvelian, the former probably represented by Maykop and its contact with the Repin and early Yamnaya cultures.

NOTE. For more on this, see Allan Bomhard’s recent paper on the Caucasian substrate hypothesis and its ongoing supplement Additional Proto-Indo-European/Northwest Caucasian Lexical Parallels.

steppe-ancestry-racimo
“Spatiotemporal kriging of YAM steppe ancestry during the Holocene, using 5000 spatial grid points. The colors represent the predicted ancestry proportion at each point in the grid.” Image with evolution from ca. 2800 BC until the present day, modified from Racimo et al. (2019). The Copenhagen group considers the expansion of this component as representative of expanding Indo-Europeans…

This kind of error happens because we all – hence also authors, peer reviewers, and especially journal editors – love far-fetched conclusions and sensational titles, forgetting what a paper actually shows and – always more importantly in scientific reports – what it doesn’t show. This is particularly true when more than one field is involved and when extraordinary claims involve aspects foreign to the journal’s (and usually the own authors’) main interests. One would have thought that the glottochronological fiasco published in Science in 2012 (open access in PMC) should have taught an important lesson to everyone involved. It didn’t, because apparently no one has felt the responsibility or the shame to retract that paper yet, even in the age of population genomics.

If anything, the excesses of mathematical linguistics – using computational methods to try and reconstruct phylogenetic trees – have perpetuated a form of misunderstood Scientism which blindly relies on a simple promise made by authors in the Materials and Method section (rarely if ever kept beyond it) to use statistics rather than resorting to the harder, well-informed, comprehensive reasoning that is needed in the comparative method. After all, why should anyone invest hundreds of hours (or simply show an interest in) learning about historical linguistics, about ancient Indo-European or Uralic languages, carefully argumenting and discussing each and every detail of the reconstruction, when one can simply rely on the own guts to decide what is Science and what isn’t? When one can trust a promise that formulas have been used?

The conservative, null hypothesis when studying prehistoric Eurasian samples related to evolving cultures was universally understood as no migration, or “pots not people” (as most western archaeologists chose to believe until recently), whereas the alternative one should have been that there were in fact migration events, some of them potentially related to the expansion of Eurasian languages ancestral to the historically attested ones. Beyond this migrationist view there were obviously dozens of thorough theories concerning potential linguistic expansions associated with specific prehistoric cultures, and a myriad of less developed alternatives, all of which deserved to be evaluated after the null hypothesis had been rejected.

Despite the shortcomings of the 2015 papers and their lack of testing or discussion of different language expansion models, the spread of the so-called “Yamnaya ancestry” – an admixture especially prevalent (after the demise of the Yamnaya) among the most likely ancient Uralic-speaking groups as well as among modern Uralic speakers and recently acculturated groups from Eastern Europe – has been nevertheless invariably concluded by each lab to support the theories of their leading archaeologist, often combined with pre-aDNA theories of geneticists based on modern haplogroup distributions. This is as evident a case of confirmation bias, circular reasoning, and jumping to conclusions as it gets.

Why many researchers of other labs have chosen to follow such conclusions instead of challenging or simply ignoring them is difficult to understand.

Related

Bell Beakers and Mycenaeans from Yamnaya; Corded Ware from the forest steppe

eba-yamnaya-ancestry-hungary

I have recently written about the spread of Pre-Yamnaya or Yamnaya ancestry and Corded Ware-related ancestry throughout Eurasia, using exclusively analyses published by professional geneticists, and filling in the gaps and contradictory data with the most reasonable interpretations. I did so consciously, to avoid any suspicion that I was interspersing my own data or cherry picking results.

Now I’m finished recapitulating the known public data, and the only way forward is the assessment of these populations using the available datasets and free tools.

Understanding the complexities of qpAdm is fairly difficult without a proper genetic and statistical background, which I won’t pretend to have, so its tweaking to get strictly correct results would require an unending game of trial and error. I have sadly little time for this, even taking my tendency to procrastination into account… so I have used a simple model akin to those published before – in particular, the outgroup selection by Ning, Wang et al. (2019), who seem to be part of the only group interested in distinguishing Yamnaya-related from Corded Ware-related ancestry, probably the most relevant question discussed today in population genomics regarding the Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Uralic homelands.

eneolithic-steppe-best-fits
Supplementary Table 13. P values of rank=2 and admixture proportions in modelling Steppe ancestry populations as a three-way admixture of Eneolithic steppe Anatolian_Neolithic and WHG using 14 outgroups.
Left populations: Test, Eneolithic_steppe, Anatolian_Neolithic, WHG.
Right populations: Mbuti.DG, Ust_Ishim.DG, Kostenki14, MA1, Han.DG, Papuan.DG, Onge.DG, Villabruna, Vestonice16, ElMiron, Ethiopia_4500BP.SG, Karitiana.DG, Natufian, Iran_Ganj_Dareh_Neolithic.

I have used for all analyses below a merged dataset including the curated one of the Reich Lab, the latest on Central and South Asia by Narasimhan, Patterson et al. (2019), on Iberia by Olalde et al. (2019), and on the East Baltic by Saag et al. (2019), as well as datasets including samples from Wang et al. (2019) and Lamnidis et al. (2018). I used (and intend to use) the same merged dataset in all cases, despite its huge size, to avoid adding one more uncontrolled variable to the analyses, so that all results obtained can be compared.

I try to prepare in advance a bunch of relevant files with left pops and right pops for each model:

  1. It seems a priori more reasonable to use geographically and chronologically closer proxy populations (say, Trypillia or GAC for Steppe-related peoples) than hypothetic combinations of ancestral ones (viz. Anatolian farmer, WHG, and EHG).
  2. This also means using subgroups closer to the most likely source population, such as (Don-Volga interfluve) Yamnaya_Kalmykia rather than (Middle Volga) Yamnaya_Samara for the western expansion of late Repin/early Yamnaya, or the early Germany_Corded_Ware.SG or Czech_Corded Ware for the group closest to the Proto-Corded Ware population (see below), likely neighbouring the Upper Vistula region.
  3. I usually test two source populations for different targets, which seems like a much more efficient way of using computer resources, whenever I know what I want to test, since I need my PC back for its normal use; whenever I don’t know exactly what to test, I use three-way admixture models and look for subsets to try and improve the results.

I have probably left out some more complex models by individualizing the most relevant groups, but for the time being this would have to do. Also, no other formal stats have been used in any case, which is an evident shortcoming, ruling out an interpretation drawn directly and only from the results below.

Full qpAdm results for each batch of samples are presented in a Google Spreadsheet, with each tab (bottom of the page) showing a different combination of sources, usually in order of formally ‘best’ (first to the left) to ‘worst’ (last to the right) fits, although the order is difficult to select in highly heterogeneous target groups, as will be readily visible.

maykop-trypillia-intrusion-steppes
Disintegration, migration, and imports of the Azov–Black Sea region. First migration event (solid arrows): Gordineşti–Maikop expansion (groups: I – Bursuchensk; II – Zhyvotylivka; III – Vovchans’k; IV – Crimean; V – Lower Don; VI – pre-Kuban). Second migration event (hollow arrows): Repin expansion. After Rassamakin (1999), Demchenko (2016).

Corded Ware origins

The latest publications on the Yampil barrow complex have not improved much our understanding of the complexity of Corded Ware origins from an archaeological point of view, involving multiple cultural (hence likely population) influences. This bit is from Ivanova et al., Baltic-Pontic Studies (2015) 20:1, and most hypotheses of the paper remain unanswered (except maybe for the relevance of the Złota group):

In the light of the above outline therefore one should argue that the ‘architecture of barrows’ associated in the ‘Yampil landscape’ of the Middle Dniester Area with the Eneolithic (specifically, mainly with the TC), precedes the development of a similar phenomenon that can be observed from 2900/2800 BC in the Upper Dniester Area and drainage basin of the Upper Vistula, associated with the CWC [Goslar et al. 2015; Włodarczak 2006; 2007; 2008; Jarosz, Włodarczak 2007]. The most consuming research question therefore is whether ritual customs making use of Eneolithic (Tripolye) ‘barrow architecture’ could have penetrated northwards along the Dniester route, where GAC communities functioned. One could also ask what role the rituals played among the autochthons [Kośko 2000; Włodarczak 2008; 2014: 335; Ivanova, Toshchev 2015b].

This issue has already been discussed with a resulting tentative systemic taxonomy in the studies of Włodarczak, arguing for the Złota culture (ZC) in the Vistula region as an illustration of one of the (Małopolska) reception centres of civilization inspirations from the oldest Pontic ‘barrow culture’ circle associated with the Eneolithic and Early Bronze Age [Włodarczak 2008]. Notably, it is in the ZC that one can notice a set of cultural traits (catacomb grave construction, burial details, forms and decoration of vessels) analogous to those shared by the north-western Black Sea Coast groups of the forest-steppe Eneolithic (chiefly Zhyvotilovka-Volchansk) and the Late Tripolye circle (chiefly Usatovo-Gordinești-Horodiștea-Kasperovtsy).

gac-trypillia-usatovo-corded-ware
Globular Amphorae culture „exodus” to the Danube Delta: a – Globular Amphorae culture; b – GAC (1), Gorodsk (2), Vykhvatintsy (3) and Usatovo (4) groups of Trypillia culture; c – Coţofeni culture; d – northern border of the late phase of Baden culture;red arrows – direction of Globular Amphora culture expansion; blue arrow – direction of „reflux” of Globular Amphora culture (apud Włodarczak, 2008, with changes).

Taking into account that I6561 might be wrongly dated, we cannot include the Corded Ware-like sample of the end-5th millennium BC in the analysis of Corded Ware origins. That uncertainty in the chronology of the appearance of “Steppe ancestry” in Proto-Corded Ware peoples complicates the selection of any potential source population from the CHG cline.

Nevertheless, the lack of hg. R1a-M417 and sizeable Pre-Yamnaya-related ancestry in the sampled Pontic forest-steppe Eneolithic populations (represented exclusively by two samples from Dereivka ca. 3600-3400 BC) would leave open the interesting possibility that a similar ancestry got to the forest-steppe region between modern Poland and Ukraine during the known complex population movements of the Late Eneolithic.

It is known that Corded Ware-derived groups and Steppe Maykop show bad fits for Pre-Yamnaya/Yamnaya ancestry, and also that Steppe Maykop is a potential source of “Steppe-related ancestry” within the Eneolithic CHG mating network of the Pontic-Caspian steppes and forest-steppes. Testing Corded Ware for recent Trypillia and Maykop influences, proper of Late Trypillia and Late Maykop groups in the North Pontic area (such as Zhyvotylivka–Vovchans’k and Gordineşti) side by side with potential Pre-Yamnaya and Yamnaya sources makes thus sense:

Now, the main obvious difference between Khvalynsk-Yamnaya and Corded Ware is the long-lasting, pervasive Y-chromosome bottlenecks under R1b lineages in the former, compared to the haplogroup variability and late bottleneck under R1a-M417 in the latter, which speaks in favour – on top of everything else – of a different community of sub-Neolithic hunter-gatherers including hg. R1a-M417 hijacking the expansion of Steppe_Maykop-related ancestry around the Volhynian-Podolian Upland.

Akin to how Yamnaya patrilineal descendants hijacked regional EEF (±CWC) ancestry components mainly through exogamy, dragging them into the different expanding Bell Beaker groups (see below), but kept their Indo-European languages, these hunter-gatherers that admixed with peoples of “Steppe ancestry” were the most likely vector of expansion of Uralic languages in Eastern Europe.

corded-ware-from-trypillia-maykop
PCA of ancient Eurasian samples. Marked likely Proto-Corded Ware samples and potential origin of its PCA cluster based on qpAdm results. See full PCA and more related files.

Baltic Corded Ware

One of the most interesting aspects of the results above is the surprising heterogeneity of the different regional groups, which is also reflected in the Y-DNA variability of early Corded Ware samples.

Seeing how Baltic CWC groups, especially the early Latvia_LN sample, show particularly bad fits with the models above, it seems necessary to test how this population might have come to be. My first impression in 2017 was that they could represent early Corded Ware groups admixed with Yamnaya settlers through their interactions along the Dnieper-Dniester corridor.

However, I recently predicted that the most likely admixture leading to their ancestry and PCA cluster would involve a Corded Ware-like group and a group related to sub-Neolithic cultures of eastern Europe, whose best proxy to date are EHG-like Khvalynsk samples (i.e. excluding the outlier with Pre-Yamnaya ancestry, I0434):

corded-ware-pca-sub-neolithic-europe
Detail of the PCA of the Corded Ware expansion. See full PCA and more related files.

Late Corded Ware + Yamnaya vanguard

Relevant are also the mixtures of Corded Ware from Esperstedt, and particularly those of the sample I0104, which I have repeated many times in this blog I suspected to be influenced by vanguard Yamnaya settlers:

The infeasible models of CWC + Yamnaya_Kalmykia ± Hungary_Baden (see below for Bell Beakers) and the potential cluster formed with other samples from the Baltic suggest that it could represent a more complex set of mixtures with sub-Neolithic populations. On the other hand, its location in Germany, late date (ca. 2500 BC or later), and position in the PCA, together with the good fits obtained for Germany_Beaker as a source, suggest that the increase in Steppe-related ancestry + EEF makes it impossible for the model (as I set it) to directly include Yamnaya_Kalmykia, despite this excess Steppe-related ancestry actually coming from Yamnaya vanguard groups.

I think it is very likely that the future publication of EEF-admixed Yamnaya_Hungary samples (or maybe even Yamnaya vanguard samples) will improve the fits of this model.

These results confirm at least the need to distrust the common interpretation of mixtures including late Corded Ware samples from Esperstedt (giving rise to the “up to 75% Yamnaya ancestry of CWC” in the 2015 papers) as representative of the Corded Ware culture as a whole, and to keep always in mind that an admixture of European BA groups including Corded Ware Esperstedt as a source also includes East BBC-like ancestry, unless proven otherwise.

yamnaya-vanguard-corded-ware-chalcolithic-early
Yamnaya vanguard groups in Corded Ware territory before the expansion of Bell Beakers (ca. 2500 BC). See full map.

Bell Beaker expansion

A hotly (re)debated topic in the past 6 months or so, and for all the wrong reasons, is the origin of the Bell Beaker folk. Archaeology, linguistics, and different Y-chromosome bottlenecks clearly indicate that Bell Beakers were at the origin of the North-West Indo-European expansion in Europe, while the survival of Corded Ware-related groups in north-eastern Europe is clearly related to the expansion of Uralic languages.

NOTE. For the interesting case of Proto-Indo-Iranians expanding with Corded Ware-like ancestry, see more on the formation of Sintashta-Potapovka-Filatovka from East Uralic-speaking Abashevo and Pre-Proto-Indo-Iranian-speaking Poltavka herders. See also more on R1a in Indo-Iranians and on the social complexity of Sintashta.

Nevertheless, every single discarded theory out there seems to keep coming back to life from time to time, and a new wave of interest in “Bell Beaker from the Single Grave culture” somehow got revived in the process, too, because this obsession – unlike the “Bell Beakers from Iberia Chalcolithic” – is apparently acceptable in certain circles, for some reason.

We know that Iberian Beakers, British Beakers, or Sicilian EBA – representing the most likely closest source population of speakers of Proto-Galaico-Lusitanian, Pre-Celtic Indo-European, and Proto-Elymian, respectively – have already been successfully tested for a direct origin among Western European Beakers in Olalde et al. (2018), Olalde et al. (2019), and Fernandes et al. (2019).

This success in ascertaining a closer Beaker source is probably due to the physical isolation of the specific groups (related to Germany_Beaker, Netherlands_Beaker, and NE_Mediterranean_Beaker samples, respectively) after their migration into regions dominated by peoples without Steppe-related ancestry. Furthermore, Celtic-speaking populations expanding with Urnfield south of the Pyrenees also show a good fit with a source close to France_Beaker.

So I decided to test sampled Bell Beaker populations, to see if it could shed light to the most likely source population of individual Beaker groups and the direction of migration within Central Europe, i.e. roughly eastwards or westwards. As it was to be expected for closely related populations (see the relevant discussion here), an attempt to offer a simplistic analysis of direction based on formal stats does not make any sense, because most of the alternative hypotheses cannot be rejected:

Not only because of the similar values obtained, but because it is absurd to take p-values as a measure of anything, especially when most of these conflicting groups with slightly ‘better’ or ‘worse’ p-values represent multiple different mixtures of the type (Yamnaya + EEF) + (Corded Ware + EEF ± Yamnaya), impossible to distinguish without selecting proper, direct ancestral populations…

A further example of how explosive the Bell Beaker expansion was into different territories, and of their extensive local admixture, is shown by the unsuccessful attempt by Olalde et al. (2018) to obtain an origin of the EEF source for all Beaker groups (excluding Iberian Beakers):

bell-beaker-local-population-iberia
Investigating the genetic makeup of Beaker-complex-associated individuals. Testing different populations as a source for the Neolithic ancestry component in Beaker-complex-associated individuals. The table shows P values (* indicates values > 0.05) for the fit of the model: ‘Steppe_EBA + Neolithic/Copper Age’ source population.
burials-yamnaya-hungary
Map of attested Yamnaya pit-grave burials in the Hungarian plains; superimposed in shades of blue are common areas covered by floods before the extensive controls imposed in the 19th century; in orange, cumulative thickness of sand, unfavourable loamy sand layer. Marked are settlements/findings of Boleráz (ca. 3500 BC on), Baden (until ca. 2800 BC), Kostolac (precise dates unknown), and Yamna kurgans (from ca. 3100/3000 BC on).

Now, there is a simpler way to understand what kind of Steppe-related ancestry is proper of Bell Beakers. I tested two simple models for some Beaker groups: Yamnaya + Hungary Baden vs. Corded Ware + GAC Poland. After all, the Bell Beaker folk should prefer a source more closely related to either Yamnaya Hungary or Central European Corded Ware:

Interestingly, models including Yamnaya + Baden show good fits for the most important groups related to North-West Indo-Europeans, including Bell Beakers from Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, and Poland, representing the most likely closest source populations of speakers of Pre-Proto-Celtic, Pre-Proto-Germanic, Proto-Italo-Venetic, and Pre-Proto-Balto-Slavic, respectively.

The admixed Yamnaya samples from Hungary that will hopefully be published soon by the Jena Lab will most likely further improve these fits, especially in combination with intermediate Chalcolithic populations of the Middle and Upper Danube and its tributaries, to a point where there will be an absolute chronological and geographical genomic trail from the fully Yamnaya-like Yamnaya settlers from Hungary to all North-West Indo-European-speaking groups of the Early Bronze Age.

The only difference between groups will be the gradual admixture events of their source Beaker group with local populations on their expansion paths, including peoples of mainly EEF, CWC+EEF, or CWC+EEF+Yamnaya related ancestry. There is ample evidence beyond ancestry models to support this, in particular continued Y-DNA bottlenecks under typical Yamnaya paternal lineages, mainly represented by R1b-L51 subclades.

east-bell-beaker-group-expansion
Distribution of the Bell Beaker East Group, with its regional provinces, as of c. 2400 cal BC (after Heyd et al. 2004, modified). See full maps.

European Early Bronze Age

European EBA groups that might show conflicting results due to multiple admixture events with Corded Ware-related populations are the Únětice culture and the Nordic Late Neolithic.

The results for Únětice groups seem to be in line with what is expected of a Central European EBA population derived from Bell Beakers admixed with surrounding poulations of East Bell Beaker and/or late (Epi-)Corded Ware descent.

Potential models of mixture for Nordic Late Neolithic samples – despite the bad fits due to the lack of direct ancestral CWC and BBC groups from Denmark – seem to be impossible to justify as derived exclusively from Single Grave or (even less) from Battle Axe peoples, supporting immigration waves of Bell Beakers from the south and further admixture events with local groups through maritime domination.

PCA of ancient European samples. Marked are Bronze Age clusters. See full PCAs.

Balkans Bronze Age

The potential origin of the typical Corded Ware Steppe-related ancestry in the social upheaval and population movements of the Dnieper-Dniester forest-steppe corridor during the 4th millennium BC raises the question: how much do Balkan Bronze Age groups owe their ancestry to a population different than the spread of Pre-Yamnaya-like Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chieftains? Furthermore, which Bronze Age groups seem to be more likely derived exclusively from Pre-Yamnaya groups, and which are more likely to be derived from a mixture of Yamnaya and Pre-Yamnaya? Do the formal stats obtained correspond to the expected results for each group?

Since the expansion of hg. I2a-L699 (TMRCA ca. 5500 BC) need not be associated with Yamnaya, some of these values – together with the assessment of each individual archaeological culture – may question their origin in a Yamnaya-related expansion rather than in a Khvalynsk-related one.

NOTE. These are the last ones I was able to test yesterday, and I have not thought these models through, so feel free to propose other source and target groups. In particular, complex movements through the North Pontic area during the Late Eneolithic would suggest that there might have been different Steppe-ancestry-related vs. EEF-related interactions in the north-west and west Pontic area before and during the expansion of Yamnaya.

Mycenaeans

One of the key Indo-European populations that should be derived from Yamnaya to confirm the Steppe hypothesis, together with North-West Indo-Europeans, are Proto-Greeks, who will in turn improve our understanding of the preceding Palaeo-Balkan community. Unfortunately, we only have Mycenaean samples from the Aegean, with slight contributions of Steppe-related ancestry.

Still, analyses with potential source populations for this Steppe ancestry show that the Yamnaya outlier from Bulgaria is a good fit:

The comparison of all results makes it quite evident the why of the good fits from (Srubnaya-related) Bulgaria_MLBA I2163 or of Sintashta_MLBA relative to the only a priori reasonable Yamnaya and Catacomb sources: it is not about some hypothetical shared ancestor in Graeco-Aryan-speaking East Yamnaya– or even Catacomb-Poltavka-related groups, because all available Yamnaya-related peoples are almost indistinguishable from each other (at least with the sampling available today). These results reflect a sizeable contribution of similar EEF-related populations from around the Carpathians in both Steppe-related groups: Corded Ware and Yamnaya settlers from the Balkans.

mycenaeans-minyan-ware-greece-minoan
Cultural groups in and around the Balkans during the Early Bronze Age. See full maps.

qpAdm magic

In hobby ancestry magic, as in magic in general, it is not about getting dubious results out of thin air: misdirection is the key. A magician needs to draw the audience attention to ‘remarkable’ ancestry percentages coupled with ‘great’ (?) p-values that purportedly “prove” what the audience expects to see, distracting everyone from the true interesting aspects, like statistical design, the data used (and its shortcomings), other opposing models, a comparison of values, a proper interpretation…you name it.

I reckon – based on the examples above – that the following problems lie at the core of bad uses of qpAdm:

  1. In the formal aspect, the poor understanding of what p-values and other formal stats obtained actually mean, and – more importantly – what they don’t mean. The simplistic trend to accept results of a few analyses at face value is necessarily wrong, in so far as there is often no proper reasoning of what is being assessed and how, and there is never a previous opinion about what could be expected if the alternative hypotheses were true.
  2. In the interpretation aspect, the poor judgement of accompanying any results with simplistic, superficial, irrelevant, and often plainly wrong archaeological or linguistic data selected a posteriori; the inclusion of some racial or sociopolitical overtones in the mixture to set a propitious mood in the target audience; and a sort of ritualistic theatrics with the main theme of ‘winning’, that is best completed with ad hominems.

If you get rid of all this, the most reasonable interpretation of the output of a model proposed and tested should be similar to Nick Patterson’s words in his explanation of qpWave and qpAdm use:

Here we see that, at least in this analysis there are reasonable models with CordedWareNeolithic is a mix of either WHG or LBKNeolithic and YamnayaEBA. (…) The point of this note is not to give a serious phylogenetic analysis but the results here certainly support a major Steppe contribution to the Corded Ware population, which is entirely concordant with the archaeology [?].

Very far, as you can see, from the childish “Eureka! I proved the source!”-kind of thinking common among hobbyists.

The Mycenaean case is an illustrative example: if the Yamnaya outlier from Bulgaria were not available, and if one were not careful when designing and assessing those mixture models, the interpretation would range from erroneous (viz. a Graeco-Aryan substrate, as I initially thought) to impossible (say, inventing migration waves of Sintashta or Srubnaya peoples into Crete). The models presented above show that a contribution of Yamnaya to Mycenaeans couldn’t be rejected, and this alone should have been enough to accept Yamnaya as the most likely source population of “Steppe ancestry” in Proto-Greeks, pending intermediate samples from the Balkans. In other words, one could actually find that ‘the best’ p-values for source populations of Mycenaeans is a combination of modern Poles + Turks, despite the impracticality of such a model…

I haven’t been able to reproduce results which supposedly showed that Corded Ware is more likely to be derived from (Pre-)Yamnaya than other source population, or that Corded Ware is better suited as the ancestral population of Bell Beakers. The analyses above show values in line with what has been published in recent scientific papers, and what should be expected based on linguistics and archaeology. So I’ll go out on a limb here and say that it’s only through a careful selection of outgroups and samples tested, and of as few compared models as possible, that you could eventually get this kind of results and interpretation, if at all.

Whether that kind of special care for outgroups and samples is about (a) an acceptable fine-tuning of the analyses, (b) a simplistic selection dragged from the first papers published and applied indiscriminately to all models, or (c) cherry picking analyses until results fit the expected outcome, is a question that will become mostly irrelevant when future publications continue to support an origin of the expansion of ancient Indo-European languages in Khvalynsk- and Yamnaya-related migrations.

Feel free to suggest (reasonable) modifications to correct some of these models in the comments. Also, be sure to check out other values such as proportions, SD or SNPs of the different results that I might have not taken into account when assessing ‘good’ or ‘bad’ fits.

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

yamna-diet-pca

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kvitjana and Trypillia

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

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

Early and late Yamna

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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