More Celts of hg. R1b, more Afanasievo ancestry, more maps


Interesting recent developments:

Celts and hg. R1b


Recent paper (behind paywall) Multi-scale archaeogenetic study of two French Iron Age communities: From internal social- to broad-scale population dynamics, by Fischer et al. J Archaeol Sci (2019).

In it, Fischer and colleagues update their previous data for the Y-DNA of Gauls from the Urville-Nacqueville necropolis, Normandy (ca. 300-100 BC), with 8 samples of hg. R, at least 5 of them R1b. They also report new data from the Gallic cemetery at Gurgy ‘Les Noisats’, Southern Paris Basin (ca. 120-80 BC), with 19 samples of hg. R, at least 13 of them R1b.

In both cases, it is likely that both communities belonged (each) to the same paternal lineages, hence the patrilocal residence rules and patrilineality described for Gallic groups, also supported by the different maternal gene pools.

The interesting data would be whether these individuals were of hg. R1b-L21, hence mainly local lineages later replaced or displaced to the west, or – a priori much more likely – of some R1b-U152 and/or R1b-DF27 subclades from Central Europe that became less and less prevalent as Celts expanded into more isolated regions south of the Pyrenees and into the British Isles. Such information is lacking in the paper, probably due to the poor coverage of the samples.

Y-DNA haplogroups in Europe during the Early Iron Age. See full map.

Other Celts

As for early Celts, we already have:

Celtiberians from the Basque Country (one of hg. I2a) and likely Celtic genetic influence in north-east Iberia (all R1b), where Iberian languages spread later, showing that Celts expanded from some place in Central Europe, probably already with the Urnfield culture (ca. 1300 BC on).

Two Hallstatt samples from Bylany, Bohemia (ca. 836-780 BC), by Damgaard et al. Nature (2018), one of them of hg. R1b-U152.

Photo and diagram of burial HÜ-I/8, Mitterkirchen, Oberösterreich, Leskovar 1998.

Another Hallstatt HaC/D1 sample from Mittelkirchen, Austria (ca. 850-650/600), by Kiesslich et al. (2012), with predicted hg. G2a (see Athey’s haplogroup prediction).

One sample of early La Tène culture A from Putzenfeld am Dürrnberg, Hallein, Austria (ca 450–380 BC), by Kiesslich et al. (2012), with predicted hg. R1b (see Athey’s haplogroup prediction).

NOTE. For potential unreliability of haplogroup prediction with Whit Atheys’ haplogroup predictor, see e.g. Zhang et al. (2017).

Photo and diagram of Burial 376, Putzenfeld, Dürrnberg bei Hallein, Moser 2007.

Three Britons from Hinxton, South Cambridgeshire (ca. 170 BC – AD 80) from Schiffels et al. (2016), two of them of local hg. R1b-S461.

Indirectly, data of Vikings by Margaryan et al. (2019) from the British Isles and beyond show hg. R1b associated with modern British-like ancestry, also linked to early “Picts”, hence likely associated with Britons even after the Anglo-Saxon settlement. Supporting both (1) my recent prediction of hg. R1b-M167 expanding with Celts and (2) the reason for its presence among modern Scandinavians, is the finding of the first ancient sample of this subclade (VK166) among the Vikings of St John’s College Oxford, associated with the ‘St Brice’s Day Massacre’ (see Margaryan et al. 2019 supplementary materials).

The R1b-M167 sample shows 23.5% British-like ancestry, hence autosomally closer to other local samples (and related to the likely Picts from Orkney) than to some of his deceased partners at the site. Other samples with sizeable British-like ancestry include VK177 (32.6%, hg. R1b-U152), VK173 (33.3%, hg. I2a1b1a), or VK150 (25.6%, hg. I2a1b1a), while typical Germanic subclades like I1 or R1b-U106 – which may be associated with Anglo-Saxons, too – tend to show less.

Y-DNA haplogroups in Europe during the Late Iron Age. See full map.

I remember some commenter asking recently what would happen to the theory of Proto-Indo-European-speaking R1b-rich Yamnaya culture if Celts expanded with hg. R1a, because there were only one hg. R1b and one (possibly) G2a from Hallstatt. As it turns out, they were mostly R1b. However, the increasingly frequent obsession of searching for specific haplogroups and ancestry during the Iron Age and the Middle Ages is weird, even as a desperate attempt, because:

  1. it is evident that the more recent the ancient DNA samples are, the more they are going to resemble modern populations of the same area, so ancient DNA would become essentially useless;
  2. cultures from the early Iron Age onward (and even earlier) were based on increasingly complex sociopolitical systems everywhere, which is reflected in haplogroup and ancestry variability, e.g. among Balts, East Germanic peoples, Slavs (of hg. E1b-V13, I2a-L621), or Tocharians.

In fact, even the finding of hg. R1b among Celts of central and western Europe during the Iron Age is rather unenlightening, because more specific subclades and information on ancestry changes are needed to reach any meaningful conclusion as to migration vs. acculturation waves of expanding Celtic languages, which spread into areas that were mostly Indo-European-speaking since the Bell Beaker expansion.

Afanasevo ancestry in Asia

Wang and colleagues continue to publish interesting analyses, now in the preprint Inland-coastal bifurcation of southern East Asians revealed by Hmong-Mien genomic history, by Xia et al. bioRxiv (2019).

Interesting excerpt (emphasis mine):

Although the Devil’s Cave ancestry is generally the predominant East Asian lineage in North Asia and adjacent areas, there is an intriguing discrepancy between the eastern [Korean, Japanese, Tungusic (except northernmost Oroqen), and Mongolic (except westernmost Kalmyk) speakers] and the western part [West Xiōngnú (~2,150 BP), Tiānshān Hun (~1,500 BP), Turkic-speaking Karakhanid (~1,000 BP) and Tuva, and Kalmyk]. Whereas the East Asian ancestry of populations in the western part has entirely belonged to the Devil’s Cave lineage till now, populations in the eastern part have received the genomic influence from an Amis-related lineage (17.4–52.1%) posterior to the presence of the Devil’s Cave population roughly in the same region (~7,600 BP)12. Analogically, archaeological record has documented the transmission of wet-rice cultivation from coastal China (Shāndōng and/or Liáoníng Peninsula) to Northeast Asia, notably the Korean Peninsula (Mumun pottery period, since ~3,500 BP) and the Japanese archipelago (Yayoi period, since ~2,900 BP)2. Especially for Japanese, the Austronesian-related linguistic influence in Japanese may indicate a potential contact between the Proto-Japonic speakers and population(s) affiliating to the coastal lineage. Thus, our results imply that a southern-East-Asian-related lineage could be arguably associated with the dispersal of wet-rice agriculture in Northeast Asia at least to some extent.

Spatial and temporal distribution of ancestries in East Asians. Reference populations and corresponding hypothesized ancestral populations: (1) Devil’s Cave (~7,600 BP), the northern East Asian lineage; (2) Amis, the southern East Asian lineage (= AHM + AAA + AAN); (3) Hòabìnhian (~7,900 BP), a lineage related to Andamanese and indigenous hunter-gatherer of MSEA; (4) Kolyma (~9,800 BP), “Ancient Palaeo-Siberians”; (5) Afanasievo (~4,800 BP), steppe ancestry; (6) Namazga (~5,200 BP), the lineage of Chalcolithic Central Asian. Here, we report the best-fitting results of qpAdm based on following criteria: (1) a feasible p-value (&mt; 0.05), (2) feasible proportions of all the ancestral components (mean &mt; 0 and standard error < mean), and (3) with the highest p-value if meeting previous conditions.

In this case, the study doesn’t compare Steppe_MLBA, though, so the findings of Afanasievo ancestry have to be taken with a pinch of salt. They are, however, compared to Namazga, so “Steppe ancestry” is there. Taking into account the limited amount of Yamnaya-like ancestry that could have reached the Tian Shan area with the Srubna-Andronovo horizon in the Iron Age (see here), and the amount of Yamnaya-like ancestry that appears in some of these populations, it seems unlikely that this amount of “Steppe ancestry” would emerge as based only on Steppe_MLBA, hence the most likely contacts of Turkic peoples with populations of both Afanasievo (first) and Corded Ware-derived ancestry (later) to the west of Lake Baikal.

(1) The simplification of ancestral components into A vs. B vs. C… (when many were already mixed), and (2) the simplistic selection of one OR the other in the preferred models (such as those published for Yamnaya or Corded Ware), both common strategies in population genomics pose evident problems when assessing the actual gene flow from some populations into others.

Also, it seems that when the “Steppe”-like contribution is small, both Yamnaya and Corded Ware ancestry will be good fits in admixed populations of Central Asia, due to the presence of peoples of EHG-like (viz. West Siberia HG) and/or CHG-like (viz. Namazga) ancestry in the area. Unless and until these problems are addressed, there is little that can be confidently said about the history of Yamnaya vs. Corded Ware admixture among Asian peoples.

Maps, maps, and more maps

As you have probably noticed if you follow this blog regularly, I have been experimenting with GIS software in the past month or so, trying to map haplogroups and ancestry components (see examples for Vikings, Corded Ware, and Yamnaya). My idea was to show the (pre)historical evolution of ancestry and haplogroups coupled with the atlas of prehistoric migrations, but I have to understand first what I can do with GIS statistical tools.

My latest exercise has been to map modern haplogroup distribution (now added to the main menu above) using data from the latest available reports. While there have been no great surprises – beyond the sometimes awful display of data by some papers – I think it is becoming clearer with each new publication how wrong it was for geneticists to target initially those populations considered “isolated” – hence subject to strong founder effects – to extrapolate language relationships. For example:

  • The mapping of R1b-M269, in particular basal subclades, corresponds nicely with the Indo-European expansions.
  • There is no clear relationship of R1b, not even R1b-DF27 (especially basal subclades), with Basques. There is no apparent relationship between the distribution of R1b-M269 and some mythical non-Indo-European “Old Europeans”, like Etruscans or Caucasian speakers, either.
  • Basal R1a-M417 shows an interesting distribution, as do maps of basal Z282 and Z93 subclades, despite the evident late bottlenecks and acculturation among Slavs.
  • The distribution of hg. N1a-VL29 (and other N1a-L392 subclades) is clearly dissociated from Uralic peoples, and their expansion in the whole Baltic Sea during the Iron Age doesn’t seem to be related to any specific linguistic expansion.
  • haplogroup-n1a-vl29
    Modern distribution of haplogroup N1a-VL29. See full map.
  • Even the most recent association in Post et al. (2019) with hg. N1a-Z1639 – due to the lack of relationship of Uralic with N1a-VL29 – seems like a stretch, seeing how it probably expanded from the Kola Peninsula and the East Urals, and neither the Lovozero Ware nor forest hunter-fishers of the Cis- and Trans-Urals regions were Uralic-speaking cultures.
  • The current prevalence of hg. R1b-M73 supports its likely expansion with Turkic-speaking peoples.
  • The distribution of haplogroup R1b-V88 in Africa doesn’t look like it was a mere founder effect in Chadic peoples – although they certainly underwent a bottleneck under it.
  • The distribution of R1a-M420 (xM198) and hg. R1b-M343 (possibly not fully depicted in the east) seem to be related to expansions close to the Caucasus, supporting once more their location in Eastern Europe / West Siberia during the Mesolithic.
  • The mapping of E1b-V13 and I-M170 (I haven’t yet divided it into subclades) are particularly relevant for the recent eastward expansion of early Slavic peoples.

All in all, modern haplogroup distribution might have been used to ascertain prehistoric language movements even in the 2000s. It was the obsession with (and the wrong assumptions about) the “purity” of certain populations – say, Basques or Finns – what caused many of the interpretation problems and circular reasoning we are still seeing today.

I have also updated maps of Y-chromosome haplogroups reported for ancient samples in Europe and/or West Eurasia for the Early Eneolithic, Early Chalcolithic, Late Chalcolithic, Early Bronze Age, Middle Bronze Age, Late Bronze Age, Early Iron Age, Late Iron Age, Antiquity, and Middle Ages.

Haplogroup inference

I have also tried Yleaf v.2 – which seems like an improvement over the infamous v.1 – to test some samples that hobbyists and/or geneticists have reported differently in the past. I have posted the results in this ancient DNA haplogroup page. It doesn’t mean that the inferences I obtain are the correct ones, but now you have yet another source to compare.

Not many surprises here, either:

  • M15-1 and M012, two Proto-Tocharians from Shirenzigou, are of hg. R1b-PH155, not R1b-M269.
  • I0124, the Samara HG, is of hg. R1b-P297, but uncertain for both R1b-M73 and R1b-M269.
  • I0122, the Khvalynsk chieftain, is of hg. R1b-V1636.
  • I2181, the Smyadovo outlier of poor coverage, is possibly of hg. R, and could be of hg. R1b-M269, but could also be even non-P.
  • I6561 from Alexandria is probably of hg. R1a-M417, likely R1a-Z645, maybe R1a-Z93, but can’t be known beyond that, which is more in line with the TMRCA of R1a subclades and the radiocarbon date of the sample.
  • I2181, the Yamnaya individual (supposedly Pre-R1b-L51) at Lopatino II is R1b-M269, negative for R1b-L51. Nothing beyond that.

You can ask me to try mapping more data or to test the haplogroup of more samples, provided you give me a proper link to the relevant data, they are interesting for the subject of this blog…and I have the time to do it.


R1a-Z280 lineages in Srubna; and first Palaeo-Balkan R1b-Z2103?


Scythian samples from the North Pontic area are far more complex than what could be seen at first glance. From the new Y-SNP calls we have now thanks to the publications at Molgen (see the spreadsheet) and in Anthrogenica threads, I think this is the basis to work with:

NOTE. I understand that writing a paper requires a lot of work, and probably statistical methods are the main interest of authors, editors, and reviewers. But it is difficult to comprehend how any user of open source tools can instantly offer a more complex assessment of the samples’ Y-SNP calls than professionals working on these samples for months. I think that, by now, it should be clear to everyone that Y-DNA is often as important (sometimes even more) than statistical tools to infer certain population movements, since admixture can change within few generations of male-biased migrations, whereas haplogroups can’t…


Srubna-Andronovo samples are as homogeneous as they always were, dominated by R1a-Z645 subclades and CWC-related (steppe_MLBA) ancestry.

The appearance of one (possibly two) R-Z280 lineages in this mixed Srubna-Alakul region of the southern Urals and this early (1880-1690 BC, hence rather Pokrovka-Alakul) points to the admixture of R1a-Z93 and R1a-Z280 already in Abashevo, which also explains the wide distribution of both subclades in the forest zones of Central Asia.

If Abashevo is the cornerstone of the Indo-Iranian / Uralic community, as it seems, the genetic admixture would initially be quite similar, undergoing in the steppes a reduction to haplogroup R1a-Z93 (obviously not complete), at the same time as it expanded to the west with Pokrovka and Srubna, and to the east with Petrovka and Andronovo. To the north, similar reductions will probably be seen following the Seima-Turbino phenomenon.

NOTE. Another R1a-Z280 has been found in the recent sample from Bronze Age Poland (see spreadsheet). As it appears right now in ancient and modern DNA, there seems to be a different distribution between subclades:

  • R1a-Z280 (formed ca. 2900 BC, TMRCA ca. 2600 BC) appears mainly distributed today to the east, in the forest and steppe regions, with the most ‘successful’ expansions possibly related to the spread of Abashevo- and Battle Axe-related cultures (Indo-Iranian and Uralic alike).
  • R1a-M458 (formed ca. 2700, TMRCA ca. 2700 BC) appears mainly distributed to the north, from central Europe to the east – but not in the steppe in aDNA, with the most ‘successful’ expansions to the west.

M458 lineages seem thus to have expanded in the steppe in sizeable numbers only after the Iranian expansions (see a map of modern R1a distributions) i.e. possibly with the expansion of Slavs, which supports the model whereby cultures from central-east Europe (like Trzciniec and Lusatian), accompanied mainly by M458 lineages, were responsible for the expansion of Proto-Balto-Slavic (and later Proto-Slavic).

The finding of haplogroup R1a-Z93, among them one Z2123, is no surprise at this point after other similar Srubna samples. As I said, the early Srubna expansion is most likely responsible for the Szólád Bronze Age sample (ca. 2100-1700 BC), and for the Balkans BA sample (ca. 1750-1625 BC) from Merichleri, due to incursions along the central-east European steppe.

Map of decorated bone/antler bridle cheek-pieces and whip handle equivalents. They are often local translations that remained faithful to the originals (from data in Piggott, 1965; Kristiansen & Larsson, 2005; David, 2007). Image from Vandkilde (2014).


Cimmerian samples from the west show signs of continuity with R1a-Z93 lineages. Nevertheless, the sample of haplogroup Q1a-Y558, together with the ‘Pre-Scythian’ sample of haplogroup N (of the Mezőcsát Culture) in Hungary ca. 980-830 BC, as well as their PCA, seem to depict an origin of these Pre-Scythian peoples in populations related to the eastern Central Asian steppes, too.

NOTE. I will write more on different movements (unrelated to Uralic expansions) from Central and East Asia to the west accompanied by Siberian ancestry and haplogroup N with the post of Ugric-Samoyedic expansions.


The Scythian of Z2123 lineage ca. 375-203 BC from the Volga (in Mathieson et al. 2015), together with the sample scy193 from Glinoe (probably also R1a-Z2123), without a date, as well as their common Steppe_MLBA cluster, suggest that Scythians, too, were at first probably quite homogeneous as is common among pastoralist nomads, and came thus from the Central Asian steppes.

The reduction in haplogroup variability among East Iranian peoples seems supported by the three new Late Sarmatian samples of haplogroup R1a-Z2124.

Approximate location of Glinoe and Glinoe Sad (with Starosilya to the south, in Ukrainian territory):

This initial expansion of Scythians does not mean that one can dismiss the western samples as non-Scythians, though, because ‘Scythian’ is a cultural attribution, based on materials. Confirming the diversity among western Scythians, a session at the recent ISBA 8:

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

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

(…) Our results (…) support the hypothesis that the Scythian dominance was cultural rather than achieved through population replacement.

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


The findings of those 31 samples seem to support what Krzewińska et al. (2018) found in a tiny region of Moldavia-south-western Ukraine (Glinoi, Glinoi Sad, and Starosilya).

The question, then, is as follows: if Scythian dominance was “cultural rather than achieved through population replacement”…Where are the R1b-Z2103 from? One possibility, as I said in the previous post, is that they represent pockets of Iranian R1b lineages in the steppes descended from eastern Yamna, given that this haplogroup appears in modern populations from a wide region surrounding the steppes.

The other possibility, which is what some have proposed since the publication of the paper, is that they are related to Thracians, and thus to Palaeo-Balkan populations. About the previously published Thracian individuals in Sikora et al. (2014):

Geographic origin of ancient samples and ADMIXTURE results. (A) Map of Europe indicating the discovery sites for each of the ancient samples used in this study. (B) Ancestral population clusters inferred using ADMIXTURE on the HGDP dataset, for k = 6 ancestral clusters. The width of the bars of the ancient samples was increased to aid visualization.

For the Thracian individuals from Bulgaria, no clear pattern emerges. While P192-1 still shows the highest proportion of Sardinian ancestry, K8 more resembles the HG individuals, with a high fraction of Russian ancestry.

Despite their different geographic origins, both the Swedish farmer gok4 and the Thracian P192-1 closely resemble the Iceman in their relationship with Sardinians, making it unlikely that all three individuals were recent migrants from Sardinia. Furthermore, P192-1 is an Iron Age individual from well after the arrival of the first farmers in Southeastern Europe (more than 2,000 years after the Iceman and gok4), perhaps indicating genetic continuity with the early farmers in this region. The only non-HG individual not following this pattern is K8 from Bulgaria. Interestingly, this individual was excavated from an aristocratic inhumation burial containing rich grave goods, indicating a high social standing, as opposed to the other individual, who was found in a pit.


The following are excerpts from A Companion to Ancient Thrace (2015), by Valeva, Nankov, and Graninger (emphasis mine):

Thracian settlements from the 6th c. BC on:

(…) urban centers were established in northeastern Thrace, whose development was linked to the growth of road and communication networks along with related economic and distributive functions. The early establishment of markets/emporia along the Danube took place toward the middle of the first millennium BCE (Irimia 2006, 250–253; Stoyanov in press). The abundant data for intensive trade discovered at the Getic village in Satu Nou on the right bank of the Danube provides another example of an emporion that developed along the main artery of communication toward the interior of Thrace (Conovici 2000, 75–76).

Undoubtedly the most prominent manifestation of centralization processes and stratification in the settlement system of Thrace arrives with the emergence of political capitals – the leading urban centers of various Thracian political formations.

Image from Volf at Vol_Vlad LiveJournal.

Their relationships with Scythians and Greeks

The Scythian presence south of the Danube must be balanced with a Thracian presence north of the river. We have observed Getae there in Alexander’s day, settled and raising grain. For Strabo the coastlands from the Danube delta north as far as the river and Greek city of Tyras were the Desert of the Getae (7.3.14), notable for its poverty and tracklessness beyond the great river. He seems to suggest also that it was here that Lysimachus was taken alive by Dromichaetes, king of the Getae, whose famous homily on poverty and imperialism only makes sense on the steppe beyond the river (7.3.8; cf. Diod. 21.12; further on Getic possessions above the Danube, Paus. 1.9 with Delev 2000, 393, who seems rather too skeptical; on poverty, cf. Ballesteros Pastor 2003). This was the kind of discourse more familiarly found among Scythians, proud and blunt in the strength of their poverty. However, as Herodotus makes clear, simple pastoralism was not the whole story as one advanced round into Scythia. For he observes the agriculture practiced north and west of Olbia. These were the lands of the Alizones and the people he calls the Scythian Ploughmen, not least to distinguish them from the Royal Scythians east of Olbia, in whose outlook, he says, these agriculturalist Scythians were their inferiors, their slaves (Hdt. 4.20). The key point here is that, as we began to see with the Getan grain-fields of Alexander’s day, there was scope for Thracian agriculturalists to maintain their lifestyles if they moved north of the Danube, the steppe notwithstanding. It is true that it is movement in the other direction that tends to catch the eye, but there are indications in the literary tradition and, especially, in the archaeological record that there was also significant movement northward from Thrace across the Danube and the Desert of the Getae beyond it.

Greek literary sources were not much concerned with Thracian migration into Scythia, but we should observe the occasional indications of that process in very different texts and contexts. At the level of myth, it is to be remembered that Amazons were regularly considered to be of Thracian ethnicity from Archaic times onward and so are often depicted in Thracian dress in Greek art (Bothmer 1957; cf. Sparkes 1997): while they are most familiar on the south coast of the Black Sea, east of Sinope, they were also located on the north coast, especially east of the Don (the ancient Tanais). Herodotus reports an origin-story of the Sauromatians there, according to which this people had been created by the union of some Scythian warriors with Amazons captured on the south coast and then washed up on the coast of Scythia (4.110). While the story is unhistorical, it is not without importance. First, it reminds us that passage north from the Danube was not the only way that Thracians, Thracian influence, and Thracian culture might find their way into Scythia. There were many more and less circuitous routes, especially by sea, that could bring Thrace into Scythia. Secondly, the myth offered some ideological basis for the Sauromatian settlement in Thrace that Strabo records, for Sauromatians might claim a Thracian origin through their Amazon forebears. Finally, rather as we saw that Heracles could bring together some of the peoples of the region, we should also observe that Ares, whose earthly home was located in Thrace by a strong Greek and Roman tradition, seems also to have been a deity of special significance and special cult among the Scythians. So much was appropriate, especially from a Classical perspective, in associations between these two peoples, whose fame resided especially in their capacity for war.

Scythians: cultures and findings (ca. 7th-4th/3rd c. BC). Greek colonies marked with concentric circles.

This broad picture of cultural contact, interaction, and osmosis, beyond simple conflict, provides the context for a range of archaeological discoveries, which – if examined separately – may seem to offer no more than a scatter of peculiarities. Here we must acknowledge especially the pioneering work of Melyukova, who has done most to develop thinking on Thracian–Scythian interaction. As she pointed out, we have a good example of Thracian–Scythian osmosis as early as the mid-seventh century bce at Tsarev Brod in northeastern Bulgaria, where a warrior’s burial combines elements of Scythian and Thracian culture (Melyukova 1965). For, while the manner of his burial and many of the grave goods find parallels in Scythia and not Thrace, there are also goods which would be odd in a Scythian burial and more at home in a Thracian one of this period (notably a Hallstatt vessel, an iron knife, and a gold diadem). Also interesting in this regard are several stone figures found in the Dobrudja which resemble very closely figures of this kind (baby) known from Scythia (Melyukova 1965, 37–38). They range in date from perhaps the sixth to the third centuries bce, and presumably were used there – as in Scythia – to mark the burials of leading Scythians deposited in the area. Is this cultural osmosis? We should probably expect osmosis to occur in tandem with the movement of artefacts, so that only good contexts can really answer such questions from case to case. However, the broad pattern is indicated by a range of factors. Particularly notable in this regard is the observable development of a Thraco-Scythian form of what is more familiar as “Scythian animal style,” a term which – it must be understood – already embraces a range of types as we examine the different examples of the style across the great expanse from Siberia to the western Ukraine. As Melyukova observes, Thrace shows both items made in this style among Scythians and, more numerous and more interesting, a Thracian tendency to adapt that style to local tastes, with observable regional distinctions within Thrace itself. Among the Getae and Odrysians the adaptation seems to have been at its height from the later fifth century to the mid-third century (Melyukova 1965, 38; 1979).

The absence of local animal style in Bulgaria before the fifth century bce confirms that we have cultural influences and osmosis at work here, though that is not to say that Scythian tradition somehow dominated its Thracian counterpart, as has been claimed (pace Melyukova 1965, 39; contrast Kitov 1980 and 1984). Of particular interest here is the horse-gear (forehead-covers, cheek-pieces, bridle fittings, and so on) which is found extensively in Romania and Bulgaria as well as in Scythia, both in hoarded deposits and in burials. This exemplifies the development of a regional animal style, not least in silver and bronze, which problematizes the whole issue of the place(s) of its production. Accordingly, the regular designation as “Thracian” of horse-gear from the rich fourth century Scythian burial of Oguz in the Ukraine becomes at least awkward and questionable (further, Fialko 1995). And let us be clear that this is no minor matter, nor even part of a broader debate about the shared development of toreutics among Thracians and Scythians (e.g., Kitov 1980 and 1984). A finely equipped horse of fine quality was a strong statement and striking display of wealth and the power it implied

(…) while Thracian pottery appears at Olbia, Scythian pottery among Thracians is largely confined to the eastern limits of what should probably be regarded as Getic territory, namely the area close to the west of the Dniester, from the sixth century bce. Rather exceptional then is the Scythian pottery noted at Istros, which has been explained as a consequence of the Scythian pursuit of the withdrawing army of Darius and, possibly, a continued Scythian grip on the southern Danube in its aftermath (Melyukova 1965, 34). The archaeology seems to show us, therefore, that the elite Thracians and Scythians were more open to adaptation and acculturation than were their lesser brethren.

Paleo-Balkan languages in Eastern Europe between 5th and 1st century BC. From Wikipedia.


(…) we see distinct peoples and organizations, for example as Sitalces’ forces line up against the Scythians. Much more striking, however, against that general background, are the various ways in which the two peoples and their elites are seen to interact, connect, and share a cultural interface. We see also in Scyles’ story how the Greek cities on the coast of Thrace and Scythia played a significant role in the workings of relationships between the two peoples. It is not simply that these cities straddled the Danube, but also that they could collaborate – witness the honors for Autocles, ca. 300 bce (SEG 49.1051; Ochotnikov 2006) – and were implicated with the interactions of the much greater non-Greek powers around them. At the same time, we have seen the limited reality of familiar distinctions between settled Thracians and nomadic Scythians and the limited role of the Danube too in dividing Thrace and Scythia. The interactions of the two were not simply matters of dynastic politics and the occasional shared taste for artefacts like horse-gear, but were more profoundly rooted in the economic matrix across the region, so that “Scythian” nomadism might flourish in the Dobrudja and “Thracian-style” agriculture and settlement can be traced from Thrace across the Danube as far as Olbia. All of that offers scant justification for the Greek tendency to run together Thracians and Scythians as much the same phenomenon, not least as irrational, ferocious, and rather vulgar barbarians (e.g., Plato, Rep. 435b), because such notions were the result of ignorance and chauvinism. However, Herodotus did not share those faults to any degree, so that we may take his ready movement from Scythians to Thracians to be an indication of the importance of interaction between the two peoples whom he had encountered not only as slaves in the Aegean world, but as powerful forces in their own lands (e.g., Hdt. 4.74, where Thracian usage is suddenly brought into his account of Scythian hemp). Similarly, Thucydides, who quite without need breaks off his disquisition on the Odrysians to remark upon political disunity among the Scythians (Thuc. 2.97, a favorite theme: cf. Hdt. 4.81; Xen., Cyr. 1.1.4). As we have seen throughout this discussion, there were many reasons why Thracians might turn the thoughts of serious writers to Scythians and vice versa.

It seems, following Sikora et al. (2014), that Thracian ‘common’ populations would have more Anatolian Neolithic ancestry compared to more ‘steppe-like’ samples. But there were important differences even between the two nearby samples published from Bulgaria, which may account for the close interaction between Scythians and Thracians we see in Krzewińska et al. (2018), potentially reflected in the differences between the Central, Southern and the South-Central clusters (possibly related to different periods rather than peoples??).

If these R1b-Z2103 were descended from Thracian elites, this would be the first proof of Palaeo-Balkan populations showing mainly R1b-Z2103, as I expect. Their appearance together with haplogroup I2a2a1b1 (also found in Ukraine Neolithic and in the Yamna outlier from Bulgaria) seem to support this regional continuity, and thus a long-lasting cultural and ethnic border roughly around the Danube, similar to the one found in the northern Caucasus.

However, since these samples are some 2,500 years younger than the Yamna expansion to the south, and they are archaeologically Scythians, it is impossible to say. In any case, it would seem that the main expansion of R1a-Z645 lineages to the south of the Danube – and therefore those found among modern Greeks – was mediated by the Slavic expansions centuries later.

Modified image from Krzewińska et al. (2018), with added Y-DNA haplogroups to each defined Scythian cluster and Sarmatians. Principal component analysis (PCA) plot visualizing 35 Bronze Age and Iron Age individuals presented in this study and in published ancient individuals in relation to modern reference panel from the Human Origins data set. See image with population references.

On the Northern cluster there is a sample of haplogroup R1b-P312 which, given its position on the PCA (apparently even more ‘modern Celtic’-like than the Hallstatt_Bylany sample from Damgaard et al. 2018), it seems that it could be the product of the previous eastward Hallstatt expansion…although potentially also from a recent one?:

Especially important in the archaeology of this interior is the large settlement at Nemirov in the wooded steppe of the western Ukraine, where there has been considerable excavation. This settlement’s origins evidently owe nothing significant to Greek influence, though the early east Greek pottery there (from ca. 650 bce onward: Vakhtina 2007) and what seems to be a Greek graffito hint at its connections with the Greeks of the coast, especially at Olbia, which lay at the estuary of the River Bug on whose middle course the site was located (Braund 2008). The main interest of the site for the present discussion, however, is its demonstrable participation in the broader Hallstatt culture to its west and south (especially Smirnova 2001). Once we consider Nemirov and the forest steppe in connection with Olbia and the other locations across the forest steppe and coastal zone, together with the less obvious movements across the steppe itself, we have a large picture of multiple connectivities in which Thrace bulks large.

Early Iron Age cultures of the Carpathian basin ca. 7-6th century BC, including steppe-related groups. Ďurkovič et al. (2018).

While the above description of clear-cut R1a-Steppe and R1b-Balkans is attractive (and probably more reliable than admixture found in scattered samples of unclear dates), the true ancient genetic picture is more complicated than that:

  • There is nothing in the material culture of the published western Scythians to distinguish the supposed Thracian elites.
  • We have the sample I0575, an Early Sarmatian from the southern Urals (one of the few available) of haplogroup R1b-Z2106, which supports the presence of R1b-Z2103 lineages among Eastern Iranian-speaking peoples.
  • We also have DA30, a Sarmatian of I2b lineage from the central steppes in Kazakhstan (ca. 47 BC – 24 AD).
  • Other Sarmatian samples of haplogroup R remain undefined.
  • There is R1a-Z93 in a late Sarmatian-Hun sample, which complicates the picture of late pastoralist nomads further.

Therefore, the possibility of hidden pockets of Iranian peoples of R1b-Z2103 (maybe also R1b-P312) lineages remains the best explanation, and should not be discarded simply because of the prevalent haplogroups among modern populations, or because of the different clusters found, or else we risk an obvious circular reasoning: “this sample is not (autosomically or in prevalent haplogroups) like those we already had from the steppe, ergo it is not from this or that steppe culture.” Hopefully, the upcoming paper by Järve et al. will help develop a clearer genetic transect of Iranian populations from the steppes.

All in all, the diversity among western Scythians represents probably one of the earliest difficult cases of acculturation to be studied with ancient DNA (obviously not the only one), since Scythians combine unclear archaeological data with limited and conflicting proto-historical accounts (also difficult to contrast with the wide confidence intervals of radiocarbon dates) with different evolving clusters and haplogroups – especially in border regions with strong and continued interactions of cultures and peoples.

With emerging complex cases like these during the Iron Age, I am happy to see that at least earlier expansions show clearer Y-DNA bottlenecks, or else genetics would only add more data to argue about potential cultural diffusion events, instead of solving questions about proto-language expansions once and for all…


Eurasian steppe dominated by Iranian peoples, Indo-Iranian expanded from East Yamna


The expected study of Eurasian samples is out (behind paywall): 137 ancient human genomes from across the Eurasian steppes, by de Barros Damgaard et al. Nature (2018).

Dicussion (emphasis mine):

Our findings fit well with current insights from the historical linguistics of this region (Supplementary Information section 2). The steppes were probably largely Iranian-speaking in the first and second millennia bc. This is supported by the split of the Indo-Iranian linguistic branch into Iranian and Indian33, the distribution of the Iranian languages, and the preservation of Old Iranian loanwords in Tocharian34. The wide distribution of the Turkic languages from Northwest China, Mongolia and Siberia in the east to Turkey and Bulgaria in the west implies large-scale migrations out of the homeland in Mongolia since about 2,000 years ago35. The diversification within the Turkic languages suggests that several waves of migration occurred36 and, on the basis of the effect of local languages, gradual assimilation to local populations had previously been assumed37. The East Asian migration starting with the Xiongnu accords well with the hypothesis that early Turkic was the major language of Xiongnu groups38. Further migrations of East Asians westwards find a good linguistic correlate in the influence of Mongolian on Turkic and Iranian in the last millennium39. As such, the genomic history of the Eurasian steppes is the story of a gradual transition from Bronze Age pastoralists of West Eurasian ancestry towards mounted warriors of increased East Asian ancestry—a process that continued well into historical times.

This paper will need a careful reading – better in combination with Narasimhan et al. (2018), when their tables are corrected – , to assess the actual ‘Iranian’ nature of the peoples studied. Their wide and long-term dominion over the steppe could also potentially explain some early samples from Hajji Firuz with steppe ancestry.

Principal component analyses. The principal components 1 and 2 were plotted for the ancient data analysed with the present-day data (no projection bias) using 502 individuals at 242,406 autosomal SNP positions. Dimension 1 explains 3% of the variance and represents a gradient stretching from Europe to East Asia. Dimension 2 explains 0.6% of the variance, and is a gradient mainly represented by ancient DNA starting from a ‘basal-rich’ cluster of Natufian hunter-gatherers and ending with EHGs. BA, Bronze Age; EMBA, Early-to-Middle Bronze Age; SHG, Scandinavian hunter-gatherers.

For the moment, at first sight, it seems that, in terms of Y-DNA lineages:

  • R1b-Z93 (especially Z2124 subclades) dominate the steppes in the studied periods.
  • R1b-P312 is found in Hallstatt ca. 810 BC, which is compatible with its role in the Celtic expansion.
  • R1b-U106 is found in a West Germanic chieftain in Poprad (Slovakia) ca. 400 AD, during the Migration Period, hence supporting once again the expansion of Germanic tribes especially with R1b-U106 lineages.
  • A new sample of N1c-L392 (L1025) lineage dated ca. 400 AD, now from Lithuania, points again to a quite late expansion of this lineage to the region, believed to have hosted Uralic speakers for more than 2,000 years before this.
  • A sample of haplogroup R1a-Z282 (Z92) dated ca. 1300 AD in the Golden Horde is probably not quite revealing, not even for the East Slavic expansion.
  • Also, interestingly, some R1b(xM269) lineages seem to be associated with Turkic expansions from the eastern steppe dated around 500 AD, which probably points to a wide Eurasian distribution of early R1b subclades in the Mesolithic.

NOTE. I have referenced not just the reported subclades from the paper, but also (and mainly) further Y-SNP calls studied by Open Genomes. See the spreadsheet here.

Interesting also to read in the supplementary materials the following, by Michaël Peyrot (emphasis mine):

1. Early Indo-Europeans on the steppe: Tocharians and Indo-Iranians

The Indo-European language family is spread over Eurasia and comprises such branches and languages as Greek, Latin, Germanic, Celtic, Sanskrit etc. The branches relevant for the Eurasian steppe are Indo-Aryan (= Indian) and Iranian, which together form the Indo-Iranian branch, and the extinct Tocharian branch. All Indo-European languages derive from a postulated protolanguage termed Proto-Indo-European. This language must have been spoken ca 4500–3500 BCE in the steppe of Eastern Europe21. The Tocharian languages were spoken in the Tarim Basin in present-day Northwest China, as shown by manuscripts from ca 500–1000 CE. The Indo-Aryan branch consists of Sanskrit and several languages of the Indian subcontinent, including Hindi. The Iranian branch is spread today from Kurdish in the west, through a.o. Persian and Pashto, to minority languages in western China, but was in the 2nd and 1st millennia BCE widespread also on the Eurasian steppe. Since despite their location Tocharian and Indo-Iranian show no closer relationship within Indo-European, the early Tocharians may have moved east before the Indo-Iranians. They are probably to be identified with the Afanasievo Culture of South Siberia (ca 2900 – 2500 BCE) and have possibly entered the Tarim Basin ca 2000 BCE103.

The Indo-Iranian branch is an extension of the Indo-European Yamnaya Culture (ca 3000–2400 BCE) towards the east. The rise of the Indo-Iranian language, of which no direct records exist, must be connected with the Abashevo / Sintashta Culture (ca 2100 – 1800 BCE) in the southern Urals and the subsequent rise and spread of Andronovo-related Culture (1700 – 1500 BCE). The most important linguistic evidence of the Indo-Iranian phase is formed by borrowings into Finno-Ugric languages104–106. Kuz’mina (2001) identifies the Finno-Ugrians with the Andronoid cultures in the pre-taiga zone east of the Urals107. Since some of the oldest words borrowed into Finno-Ugric are only found in Indo-Aryan, Indo-Aryan and Iranian apparently had already begun to diverge by the time of these contacts, and when both groups moved east, the Iranians followed the Indo-Aryans108. Being pushed by the expanding Iranians, the Indo-Aryans then moved south, one group surfacing in equestrian terminology of the Anatolian Mitanni kingdom, and the main group entering the Indian subcontinent from the northwest.

Summary map. Depictions of the five main migratory events associated with the genomic history of the steppe pastoralists from 3000 bc to the present. a, Depiction of Early Bronze Age migrations related to the expansion of Yamnaya and Afanasievo culture. b, Depiction of Late Bronze Age migrations related to the Sintashta and Andronovo horizons. c, Depiction of Iron Age migrations and sources of admixture. d, Depiction of Hun-period migrations and sources of admixture. e, Depiction of Medieval migrations across the steppes.

2. Andronovo Culture: Early Steppe Iranian

Initially, the Andronovo Culture may have encompassed speakers of Iranian as well as Indo-Aryan, but its large expansion over the Eurasian steppe is most probably to be interpreted as the spread of Iranians. Unfortunately, there is no direct linguistic evidence to prove to what extent the steppe was indeed Iranian speaking in the 2nd millennium BCE. An important piece of indirect evidence is formed by an archaic stratum of Iranian loanwords in Tocharian34,109. Since Tocharian was spoken beyond the eastern end of the steppe, this suggests that speakers of Iranian spread at least that far. In the west of the Tarim Basin the Iranian languages Khotanese and Tumshuqese were spoken. However, the Tocharian B word etswe ‘mule’, borrowed from Iranian *atswa- ‘horse’, cannot derive from these languages, since Khotanese has aśśa- ‘horse’ with śś instead of tsw. The archaic Iranian stratum in Tocharian is therefore rather to be connected with the presence of Andronovo people to the north and possibly to the east of the Tarim Basin from the middle of the 2nd millennium BCE onwards110.

Since Kristiansen and Allentoft sign the paper (and Peyrot is a colleague of Kroonen), it seems that they needed to expressly respond to the growing criticism about their recent Indo-European – Corded Ware Theory. That’s nice.

They are obviously trying to reject the Corded Ware – Uralic links that are on the rise lately among Uralicists, now that Comb Ware is not a suitable candidate for the expansion of the language family.

IECWT-proponents are apparently not prepared to let it go quietly, and instead of challenging the traditional Neolithic Uralic homeland in Eastern Europe with a recent paper on the subject, they selected an older one which partially fit, from Kuz’mina (2001), now shifting the Uralic homeland to the east of the Urals (when Kuz’mina asserts it was south of the Urals).

Different authors comment later in this same paper about East Uralic languages spreading quite late, so even their text is not consistent among collaborating authors.

Also interesting is the need to resort to the questionable argument of early Indo-Aryan loans – which may have evidently been Indo-Iranian instead, since there is no way to prove a difference between both stages in early Uralic borrowings from ca. 4,500-3,500 years ago…

EDIT (10/5/2018) The linguistic supplement of the Science paper deals with different Proto-Indo-Iranian stages in Uralic loans, so on the linguistic side at least this influence is clear to all involved.

A rejection of such proposals of a late, eastern homeland can be found in many recent writings of Finnic scholars; see e.g. my references to Parpola (2017), Kallio (2017), or Nordqvist (2018).

NOTE. I don’t mind repeating it again: Uralic is one possibility (the most likely one) for the substrate language that Corded Ware migrants spread, but it could have been e.g. another Middle PIE dialect, similar to Proto-Anatolian (after the expansion of Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chiefs). I expressly stated this in the Corded Ware substrate hypothesis, since the first edition. What was clear since 2015, and should be clear to anyone now, is that Corded Ware did not spread Late PIE languages to Europe, and that some east CWC groups only spread languages to Asia after admixing with East Yamna. If they did not spread Uralic, then it was a language or group of languages phonetically similar, which has not survived to this day.

Their description of Yamna migrations is already outdated after Olalde et al. & Mathieson et al. (2018), and Narasimhan et al. (2018), so they will need to update their model (yet again) for future papers. As I said before, Anthony seems to be one step behind the current genetic data, and the IECWT seems to be one step behind Anthony in their interpretations.

At least we won’t have the Yamna -> Corded Ware -> BBC nonsense anymore, and they expressly stated that LPIE is to be associated with Yamna, and in particular the “Indo-Iranian branch is an extension of the Indo-European Yamnaya Culture (ca 3000–2400 BCE) to the East” (which will evidently show an East Yamna / Poltavka society of R1b-L23 subclades), so that earlier Eneolithic cultures have to be excluded, and Balto-Slavic identification with East Europe is also out of the way.