Migration vs. Acculturation models for Aegean Neolithic in Genetics — still depending strongly on Archaeology


Recent paper in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Archaeogenomic analysis of the first steps of Neolithization in Anatolia and the Aegean, by Kılınç et al. (2017).


The Neolithic transition in west Eurasia occurred in two main steps: the gradual development of sedentism and plant cultivation in the Near East and the subsequent spread of Neolithic cultures into the Aegean and across Europe after 7000 cal BCE. Here, we use published ancient genomes to investigate gene flow events in west Eurasia during the Neolithic transition. We confirm that the Early Neolithic central Anatolians in the ninth millennium BCE were probably descendants of local hunter–gatherers, rather than immigrants from the Levant or Iran. We further study the emergence of post-7000 cal BCE north Aegean Neolithic communities. Although Aegean farmers have frequently been assumed to be colonists originating from either central Anatolia or from the Levant, our findings raise alternative possibilities: north Aegean Neolithic populations may have been the product of multiple westward migrations, including south Anatolian emigrants, or they may have been descendants of local Aegean Mesolithic groups who adopted farming. These scenarios are consistent with the diversity of material cultures among Aegean Neolithic communities and the inheritance of local forager know-how. The demographic and cultural dynamics behind the earliest spread of Neolithic culture in the Aegean could therefore be distinct from the subsequent Neolithization of mainland Europe.

The analysis of the paper highlights two points regarding the process of Neolithisation in the Aegean, which is essential to ascertain the impact of later Indo-European migrations of Proto-Anatolian and Proto-Greek and other Palaeo-Balkan speakers(texts partially taken verbatim from the paper):

  • The observation that the two central Anatolian populations cluster together to the exclusion of Neolithic populations of south Levant or of Iran restates the conclusion that farming in central Anatolia in the PPN was established by local groups instead of immigrants, which is consistent with the described cultural continuity between central Anatolian Epipalaeolithic and Aceramic communities. This reiterates the earlier conclusion that the early Neolithisation in the primary zone was largely a process of cultural interaction instead of gene flow.
Principal component analysis (PCA) with modern and ancient genomes. The eigenvectors were calculated using 50 modern west Eurasian populations, onto which genome data from ancient individuals were projected. The gray circles highlight the four ancient gene pools of west Eurasia. Modern-day individuals are shown as gray points. In the Near East, Pre-Neolithic (Epipaleolithic/Mesolithic) and Neolithic individuals genetically cluster by geography rather than by cultural context. For instance, Neolithic individuals of Anatolia cluster to the exclusion of individuals from the Levant or Iran). In Europe, genetic clustering reflects cultural context but not geography: European early Neolithic individuals are genetically distinct from European pre-Neolithic individuals but tightly cluster with Anatolians. PPN: Pre-Pottery/Aceramic Neolithic, PN: Pottery Neolithic, Tepecik: Tepecik-Çiftlik (electronic supplementary material, table S1 lists the number of SNPs per ancient individual).
  • The realisation that there are still two possibilities regarding the question of whether Aegean Neolithisation (post-7000 cal BC) involved similar acculturation processes, or was driven by migration similar to Neolithisation in mainland Europe — a long-standing debate in Archaeology:
    1. Migration from Anatolia to the Aegean: the Aegean Neolithisation must have involved replacement of a local, WHG-related Mesolithic population by incoming easterners. Central Anatolia or south Anatolia / north Levant (of which there is no data) are potential origins of the components observed. Notably, the north Aegeans – Revenia (ca. 6438-6264 BC) and Barcın (ca. 6500-6200 BC) – show higher diversity than the central Anatolians, and the population size of Aegeans was larger than that of central Anatolians. The lack of WHG in later samples indicates that they must have been fully replaced by the eastern migrant farmers.
    2. Adoption of Neolithic elements by local foragers: Alternatively, the Aegean coast Mesolithic populations may have been part of the Anatolian-related gene pool that occupied the Aegean seaboard during the Early Holocene, in an “out-of-the-Aegean hypothesis. Following the LGM, Aegean emigrants would have dispersed into central Anatolia and established populations that eventually gave rise to the local Epipalaeolithic and later Neolithic communities, in line with the earliest direct evidence for human presence in central Anatolia ca 14 000 cal BCE
  • On the archaeological evidence (excerpt):

    Instead of a single-sourced colonization process, the Aegean Neolithization may thus have flourished upon already existing coastal and interior interaction networks connecting Aegean foragers with the Levantine and central Anatolian PPN populations, and involved multiple cultural interaction events from its early steps onward [16,20,64,74]. This wide diversity of cultural sources and the potential role of local populations in Neolithic development may set apart Aegean Neolithization from that in mainland Europe. While Mesolithic Aegean genetic data are awaited to fully resolve this issue, researchers should be aware of the possibility that the initial emergence of the Neolithic elements in the Aegean, at least in the north Aegean, involved cultural and demographic dynamics different than those in European Neolithization.

    Featured image, from the article: “Summary of the data analyzed in this study. (a) Map of west Eurasia showing the geographical locations and (b) timeline showing the time period (years BCE) of ancient individuals investigated in the study. Blue circles: individuals from pre-Neolithic context; red triangles: individuals from Neolithic contexts”.


Renewed German reparation demands by Poland mean also renewed territorial disputes


Maybe it is my impression, and this has been going on for a long time now, but in the past few months I have received many notifications from German newspapers about increasing demands by the Polish Government for war reparations (see today, five days ago, and see some editorials on the subject by the Berliner Zeitung and Die Welt).

This might seem a quick and easy way of obtaining money for the Polish administration; after all, Greece has been trying to do that since their economic crisis, not the least because of Germany’s strong support of austerity measures during it. The position of Greece, however, is different. There was no exchange between both nations after the war.

According to the Polish Government, before the fall of the Soviet Union Poland was a Soviet ‘puppet’ (their words, not mine), so the Two Plus Four Agreement – and indeed, it is to be understood, all previous treaties regarding reparations – are not legally binding.

However, if that is so, which demands did Germany relinquished to end with insurmountable WWII reparations? That is, which German demands can then be brought to the table again?

West Germany map of the 1960s showing Germany with their pre-1937 borders in many of their school atlases. On the map you can see the GDR in the Green / Yellow colours, Pomerania, Silesia and Eastern Prussian are noted as “At current time under Polish administration”, the same for Kaliningrad Oblast but as “Under Soviet administration”.

Just yesterday a Reddit user posted a typical German atlas from the 60s and 70s, including “Polish-administered lands”. In my experience, German language books tend to show German-speaking territory in what is now Poland without changes from the pre-war situation, even including (especially those up to the 90s) old administrative borders.

In 1970 at the Treaty of Warsaw the current borders were accepted by West Germany and Poland, and West Germany stopped printing their atlases this way. East Germany – also a Soviet ‘puppy’ then, according to the Polish Government – had already accepted the Oder-Niesse line in 1953 after Poland relinquished their demands for reparation in exchange for the eastern German lands.

[EDIT 25 September 2017] I stumbled upon one of the last ‘official’ atlases used in German schools, the Diercke Weltatlas of 1970 (via Reddit), and see also another map of 1969, all of which included the claimed borders. Eastern Poland, on the other hand, would retain modern borders according to these maps (see here and here).

[EDIT 21 October 2017] I found out that the Christian Democrats criticized this Ostpolitik and continued to campaign on what they referred to as late as 1980 as “the open German question”.

CDU propaganda poster of 1980 titled “the open German question”, including a map of Germany with claimed historical territories

Until recently, only the NPD (Germany’s far-right party) had openly supported the idea of returning the eastern territories and the Sudetenland. And these demands are not to be taken lightly, since the party is mainly voted by neighbouring east Germans and populism is on the rise everywhere.

Typical map of Germany, from the NPD website

Reparations for mass expulsions of Germans from Poland and the Sudetenland have been mostly repressed, in my experience, by German news outlets and officials alike. Abuse of the east German population is an unpopular subject within the Germans’ general desire to close wounds and go forward. Only rarely could you watch some documentary about the mass expulsions, killings, rape, and violence in general that was seen in post-war Germany (including pre-WWII territories).

Allied map used to determine the number of Germans that would have to be expelled from the eastern German territories using different border scenarios. Source: https://www.library.wisc.edu/

This is one of the questions that could be described as officially taboo. And probably for good reason. Like criticising the effects of the Multikulti movement (or the integration of the Turkish population) some twenty years ago, or today for example mentioning the foreign nationality of crime suspects to avoid inciting hate crimes.

However, judging from innumerable maps of German lands and WWII (and alternative history maps set after WWII) that appear in Reddit and DeviantArt, there are a lot of Germans who still regard with nostalgia the territories where their parents or grandparents lived.

In a time of European challenges like Brexit, rising populist parties, Balkanisation trends, and war against religious extremism, you have to understand what kind of new Pandora’s box you are ready to open. I hope Poles understand what their representatives are doing, and are ready for the consequences of repealing these treaties.

Featured image: Typical map of German dialects in the 1930s.

Genetic origins of Minoans and Mycenaeans and their continuity into modern Greeks


A new article has appeared in Nature, Genetic origins of the Minoans and Mycenaeans, by Lazaridis et al. (2017), referenced by Science.


The origins of the Bronze Age Minoan and Mycenaean cultures have puzzled archaeologists for more than a century. We have assembled genome-wide data from 19 ancient individuals, including Minoans from Crete, Mycenaeans from mainland Greece, and their eastern neighbours from southwestern Anatolia. Here we show that Minoans and Mycenaeans were genetically similar, having at least three-quarters of their ancestry from the first Neolithic farmers of western Anatolia and the Aegean, and most of the remainder from ancient populations related to those of the Caucasus3 and Iran. However, the Mycenaeans differed from Minoans in deriving additional ancestry from an ultimate source related to the hunter–gatherers of eastern Europe and Siberia, introduced via a proximal source related to the inhabitants of either the Eurasian steppe or Armenia. Modern Greeks resemble the Mycenaeans, but with some additional dilution of the Early Neolithic ancestry. Our results support the idea of continuity but not isolation in the history of populations of the Aegean, before and after the time of its earliest civilizations.

Samples are scarce, and there is only one Y-DNA haplogroup of Mycenaeans, J2a1 (in Galatas Apatheia, ca. 1700-1200), which shows continuity of haplogroups from Minoan samples, so it does not clarify the potential demic diffusion of Proto-Greeks marked by R1b subclades.

Regarding admixture analyses, it is explicitly or implicitly (according to the press release) stated that:

  • There is continuity between Mycenaeans and living people, so that the major components of the Greeks’ ancestry was in place already in the Bronze Age, after the migration of the earliest farmers from Anatolia.
  • Anatolians may have been the source of “eastern” Caucasian ancestry in Mycenaeans, and maybe of early Indo-European languages (i.e. earlier than Proto-Greek) in the region.
  • The “northern” steppe population (speaking a Late Indo-European dialect, then) had arrived only in mainland Greece, with a 13-18% admixture, by the time studied.
  • Samples before the Final Neolithic (ca. 4100 BC) do not possess either type of ancestry, suggesting that the admixture detected occurred during the fourth to second millennium BC.
  • Admixture from Levantine or African influence (i.e. Egyptian or Phoenician colonists) cannot be supported with admixture.

All in all, there is some new interesting information, and among them the possibility of obtaining ancient DNA from arid regions, which is promising for future developments in the field.

EDIT (20/8/2017): The article received widespread media attention, and two blog posts were linked to by the main author in his Twitter account: Who are you calling Mycenaean?, and On genetics and the Aegean Bronze Age. Apart from the obviously wrong reductio ad Hitlerum that pops up in any discussion on Indo-Europeans or genetics (even I do it regarding fans of admixture analysis), I don’t know why these created so much fuss (and hate) among geneticists. There seems to be a war brewing between Archaeology and Genetics.

Razib Khan writes The Revolution Which Came To Archaeology Without Archaeologists?, and I guess this is how many people feel in the field, but if they had studied some minimal archaeology of the samples they are studying they would know that their conclusions would come as no surprise, in any case. They can solve old archaeological questions, and they can help create new hypothesis. That’s it. Regarding the study Mr. Khan believes did come as a surprise to archaeologists, that on Bell Beakers, I would like to remind him of the predictions Volker Heyd did about genetics already in 2007, based only on Archaeology.


Featured map: samples studied, from the article.

The over-simplistic “Kossinnian Model”: homogeneous peoples speaking a common language within clearly delimited cultures


There seems to be a growing trend to over-simplistic assumptions in archaeology and linguistics, led by amateur and professional geneticists alike, due to the recent (only partially deserved) popularity of Human Evolutionary Biology.

These studies are offering ancient DNA samples, whose Y-DNA and mtDNA haplogroups and admixture analyses are showing some new valuable information on ancient cultures and peoples. However, their authors are constantly giving uninformed conclusions.

I have read a good, simple description of the Kossinnian model in the book Balkan Dialogues (Routledge, 2017), which has been shared to be fully read online by co-editor Maria Ivanova.

Chapter 3, The transitions between Neolithic and Early Bronze Age in Greece, and the “Indo-European problem”, by Jean-Paul Demoule, offers a clear account of the difficulties found in tracing the arrival of Proto-Greek speakers to Greece or the “Coming of the Greeks”. The identifications of cultural breaks most commonly supported by academics as potentially signaling the arrival of Proto-Greeks are cited, including the Early Helladic III period ca. 2300 BC (with the diffusion of Mynian ware), or the Middle Helladic period ca. 2000 BC. The problem of finding a clear cultural break before the emergence of Mycenaean Greece (which obviously spoke an early Greek dialect) has led some to adopt a “Palaeolithic autochthonous theory” (Giannopoulos 2012), which offers still more problems than it solves.

Of interest is his reference to Kossinna in light of the recent popularity in resorting to DNA to answer all problems. It is mandatory for the field of Indo-European studies – regardless of what renown labs and journals of high impact factor are publishing – to avoid carrying on “in the steps of race based cranial measurement which enjoyed its floruit in the 19th century before fading into oblivion.”

This is why, without denying the relationship between Indo-European languages, we need to question the validity of the overall model itself, which has shown itself to be over-simplistic in assuming the movement of permanent and long-lasting homogeneous “peoples”. More precisely, we have to criticize in details the “Kossinnian Model” underlying all those assumptions – “Kossinnian”, because of the German archaeologist Gustaf Kossinna (1858–1931), well known for the famous sentence: “Cultural provinces, which are clearly delimited on the basis of archaeology, correspond in every era to specific peoples or tribes” (“Scharf umgrenzte archäologische Kultur-provinzen decken sich zu allen Zeiten mit ganz bestimmten Völkern und Völkerstämmen”). Four basic assumptions arise from this central idea:

  1. Changes in languages are due to population movements, usually involving conquest, and every migration implies a linguistic change.
  2. Archaeological “cultures” are homogenous ethnic groups, with defined frontiers, based on the model of 19th- and 20th-century nation-states and equally on the model of biological entities that reproduce by parthenogenesis.
  3. There is coincidence between language and material culture.
  4. Finally, languages are also homogenous biological entities which are autonomous and clearly delimited, and which can reproduce by parthenogenesis or by scissiparity.

Unfortunately, none of these points is self-evident and each can be countered by a number of historical examples (Demoule 2014: 553–592).

While I agree with the first part of the first statement attributed to the “Kossinnian model”, i.e. that languages are usually the product of population movements (either involving conquest or not), the other statements are obviously and demonstrably false, and are frequently assumed in comments, blog posts, forums, and even research articles – particularly in those based on genetic studies -, and this trend seems to be increasing lately.

On the origin of R1a and R1b subclades in Greece


An article published in PLoS ONE, Y-chromosomal analysis of Greek Cypriots reveals a primarily common pre-Ottoman paternal ancestry with Turkish Cypriots, by Alexandros Heraclides and colleagues, insists on the potential origin of R1b and R1a lineages in Greece from Indo-European migrations, albeit with strong regional (and thus most likely temporal) differences. From the article’s discussion:

Although the exact origins and migratory patterns of R1a and R1b are still under rigorous investigation, it seems that they are linked to Bronze Age migrations from the Western Eurasian Steppe and Eastern Europe into Southern (including Greece) and Western Europe[61]. Apparently, such migrations (especially as regards R1a) into Cyprus were limited.

Additionally, the Greek population has received considerable migrations during the Byzantine era and the Middle Ages from other Balkanic populations, such as Slavs[62,63], Aromanians (Vlachs)[64], and Albanians (Arvanites)[65,66]. The former, is very likely to have increased R1a frequencies among Greeks. In fact, Fig 3 (also S7 Table) indicate that R1a increases gradually with increasing latitude in Greece. There is no historical evidence for such migrations into Cyprus during the same period.

The only Greek sub-population showing close genetic proximity to Cypriots (in terms of Y-haplogroup composition) is Cretan Greeks (Figs 3 and 4). It could be speculated that Cypriots and Cretans experienced very similar migratory events over the centuries, which were characterized by high influx from populations rich in haplogroups J2a and G2, and moderate in R1b, while very limited influx from populations rich in haplogroups R1a and I (Eastern and Northern/ Central Europe), as well as from populations rich in J1 (Middle East) and E-M81 (North Africa).

If R1b-M269 lineages are linked – as I have proposed – to Yamna migrations, and especially R1b-Z2103 to Palaeo-Balkan migrations, whereas R1a-M417 is to be linked to Corded Ware migrations, the reason for this latitude-dependent (and also longitude-dependent) presence of R1a-M417 subclades in Greece and is probably linked to the expansion of Slavic R1a-Z282 lineages to the north and west of Greece (and from there through intermarriages and migrations within Greece into other regions), and Iranian R1a-Z93 lineages to the east traditional Greek territory, into Asia Minor. The expansion of Balkan peoples (including Slavs, Albanian, and Aromanian peoples) might have brought with them R1b-M269*, I2, or R1a-Z282 subclades.

News of the article via Eurogenes.