A Song of Sheep and Horses, revised edition, now available as printed books


As I said 6 months ago, 2019 is a tough year to write a blog, because this was going to be a complex regional election year and therefore a time of political promises, hence tenure offers too. Now the preliminary offers have been made, elections have passed, but the timing has slightly shifted toward 2020. So I may have the time, but not really any benefit of dedicating too much effort to the blog, and a lot of potential benefit of dedicating any time to evaluable scientific work.

On the other hand, I saw some potential benefit for publishing texts with ISBNs, hence the updates to the text and the preparation of these printed copies of the books, just in case. While Spain’s accreditation agency has some hard rules for becoming a tenured professor, especially for medical associates (whose years of professional experience are almost worthless compared to published peer-reviewed papers), it is quite flexible in assessing one’s merits.

However, regional and/or autonomous entities are not, and need an official identifier and preferably printed versions to evaluate publications, such as an ISBN for books. I took thus some time about a month ago to update the texts and supplementary materials, to publish a printed copy of the books with Amazon. The first copies have arrived, and they look good.


Corrections and Additions

I have changed the names and order of the books, as I intended for the first publication – as some of you may have noticed when the linguistic book was referred to as the third volume in some parts. In the first concept I just wanted to emphasize that the linguistic work had priority over the rest. Now the whole series and the linguistic volume don’t share the same name, and I hope this added clarity is for the better, despite the linguistic volume being the third one.

Uralic dialects
I have changed the nomenclature for Uralic dialects, as I said recently. I haven’t really modified anything deeper than that, because – unlike adding new information from population genomics – this would require for me to do a thorough research of the most recent publications of Uralic comparative grammar, and I just can’t begin with that right now.

Anyway, the use of terms like Finno-Ugric or Finno-Samic is as correct now for the reconstructed forms as it was before the change in nomenclature.


The most interesting recent genetic data has come from Iberia and the Mediterranean. Lacking direct data from the Italian Peninsula (and thus from the emergence of the Etruscan and Rhaetian ethnolinguistic community), it is becoming clearer how some quite early waves of Indo-Europeans and non-Indo-Europeans expanded and shrank – at least in West Iberia, West Mediterranean, and France.

Some of the main updates to the text have been made to the sections on Finno-Ugric populations, because some interesting new genetic data (especially Y-DNA) have been published in the past months. This is especially true for Baltic Finns and for Ugric populations.


Consequently, and somehow unsurprisingly, the Balto-Slavic section has been affected by this; e.g. by the identification of Early Slavs likely with central-eastern populations dominated by (at least some subclades of) hg. I2a-L621 and E1b-V13.

I have updated some cultural borders in the prehistoric maps, and the maps with Y-DNA and mtDNA. I have also added one new version of the Early Bronze age map, to better reflect the most likely location of Indo-European languages in the Early European Bronze Age.

As those in software programming will understand, major changes in the files that are used for maps and graphics come with an increasing risk of additional errors, so I would not be surprised if some major ones would be found (I already spotted three of them). Feel free to communicate these errors in any way you see fit.

European Early Bronze Age: tentative langage map based on linguistics, archaeology, and genetics.

I have selected more conservative SNPs in certain controversial cases.

I have also deleted most SNP-related footnotes and replaced them with the marking of each individual tentative SNP, leaving only those footnotes that give important specific information, because:

  • My way of referencing tentative SNP authors did not make it clear which samples were tentative, if there were more than one.
  • It was probably not necessary to see four names repeated 100 times over.
  • Often I don’t really know if the person I have listed as author of the SNP call is the true author – unless I saw the full SNP data posted directly – or just someone who reposted the results.
  • Sometimes there are more than one author of SNPs for a certain sample, but I might have added just one for all.
More than 6000 ancient DNA samples compiled to date.

For a centralized file to host the names of those responsible for the unofficial/tentative SNPs used in the text – and to correct them if necessary -, readers will be eventually able to use Phylogeographer‘s tool for ancient Y-DNA, for which they use (partly) the same data I compiled, adding Y-Full‘s nomenclature and references. You can see another map tool in ArcGIS.

NOTE. As I say in the text, if the final working map tool does not deliver the names, I will publish another supplementary table to the text, listing all tentative SNPs with their respective author(s).

If you are interested in ancient Y-DNA and you want to help develop comprehensive and precise maps of ancient Y-DNA and mtDNA haplogroups, you can contact Hunter Provyn at Phylogeographer.com. You can also find more about phylogeography projects at Iain McDonald’s website.

I have also added more samples to both the “Asian” and the “European” PCAs, and to the ADMIXTURE analyses, too.

I previously used certain samples prepared by amateurs from BAM files (like Botai, Okunevo, or Hittites), and the results were obviously less than satisfactory – hence my criticism of the lack of publication of prepared files by the most famous labs, especially the Copenhagen group.

Fortunately for all of us, most published datasets are free, so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. I criticized genetic labs for not releasing all data, so now it is time for praise, at least for one of them: thank you to all responsible at the Reich Lab for this great merged dataset, which includes samples from other labs.

NOTE. I would like to make my tiny contribution here, for beginners interested in working with these files, so I will update – whenever I have time – the “How To” sections of this blog for PCAs, PCA3d, and ADMIXTURE.

Detail of the PCA of European Iron Age populations. See full versions.

For unsupervised ADMIXTURE in the maps, a K=5 is selected based on the CV, giving a kind of visual WHG : NWAN : CHG/IN : EHG : ENA, but with Steppe ancestry “in between”. Higher K gave worse CV, which I guess depends on the many ancient and modern samples selected (and on the fact that many samples are repeated from different sources in my files, because I did not have time to filter them all individually).

I found some interesting component shared by Central European populations in K=7 to K=9 (from CEU Bell Beakers to Denmark LN to Hungarian EBA to Iberia BA, in a sort of “CEU BBC ancestry” potentially related to North-West Indo-Europeans), but still, I prefer to go for a theoretically more correct visualization instead of cherry-picking the ‘best-looking’ results.

Since I made fun of the search for “Siberian ancestry” in coloured components in Tambets et al. 2018, I have to be consistent and preferred to avoid doing the same here…

In the first publication (in January) and subsequent minor revisions until March, I trusted analyses and ancestry estimates reported by amateurs in 2018, which I used for the text adding my own interpretations. Most of them have been refuted in papers from 2019, as you probably know if you have followed this blog (see very recent examples here, here, or here), compelling me to delete or change them again, and again, and again. I don’t have experience from previous years, although the current pattern must have been evidently repeated many times over, or else we would be still talking about such previous analyses as being confirmed today…

I wanted to be one step ahead of peer-reviewed publications in the books, but I prefer now to go for something safe in the book series, rather than having one potentially interesting prediction – which may or may not be right – and ten huge mistakes that I would have helped to endlessly redistribute among my readers (online and now in print) based on some cherry-picked pairwise comparisons. This is especially true when predictions of “Steppe“- and/or “Siberian“-related ancestry have been published, which, for some reason, seem to go horribly wrong most of the time.

I am sure whole books can be written about why and how this happened (and how this is going to keep happening), based on psychology and sociology, but the reasons are irrelevant, and that would be a futile effort; like writing books about glottochronology and its intermittent popularity due to misunderstood scientist trends. The most efficient way to deal with this problem is to avoid such information altogether, because – as you can see in the current revised text – they wouldn’t really add anything essential to the content of these books, anyway.

Continue reading

Official site of the book series:
A Song of Sheep and Horses: eurafrasia nostratica, eurasia indouralica

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. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pgen.1004353.g001

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…


Pre-Roman and Roman mitogenomes from Southern Italy


Ph.D. thesis Assessing Migration and Demographic Change in pre-Roman and Roman Period Southern Italy Using Whole-Mitochondrial DNA and Stable Isotope Analysis, or The Biogeographic Origins of Iron Age Peucetians and Working-Class Romans From Southern Italy, by Matthew Emery, McMaster University (2018).

Abstract (emphasis mine):

Assessing population diversity in southern Italy has traditionally relied on archaeological and historic evidence. Although informative, these lines of evidence do not establish specific instances of within lifetime mobility, nor track population diversity over time. In order to investigate the population structure of ancient South Italy I sequenced the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from 15 Iron Age (7th – 4th c. BCE) and 30 Roman period (1st – 4th c. BCE) individuals buried at Iron Age Botromagno and Roman period Vagnari, in southern Italy, and analyzed δ18O and 87Sr/86Sr values from a subset of the Vagnari skeletal assemblage.

Phylogenetic analysis of 15 Iron Age mtDNAs together with 231 mtDNAs spanning European prehistory suggest that southern Italian Iapygians share close genetic affinities to Neolithic populations from eastern Europe and the Near East. Population pairwise analysis of Iron Age, Roman, and mtDNA datasets spanning the pan-Mediterranean region (n=357), indicate that Roman maternal genetic diversity is more similar to Neolithic and Bronze Age populations from central Europe and the eastern Mediterranean, respectively, than to Iron Age Italians. Genetic distance between population age categories imply moderate mtDNA turnover and constant population size during the Roman conquest of South Italy in the 3rd century BCE.

In order to determine the local versus non-local demographic at Vagnari, I measured the 87Sr/86Sr and 18O/16O of composition of 43 molars, and the 87Sr/86Sr composition of an additional 13 molars, and constructed a preliminary 87Sr/86Sr variation map of the Italian peninsula using disparate 87Sr/86Sr datasets. The relationship between 87Sr/86Sr and previously published δ18O data suggest a relatively low proportion of migrants lived at Vagnari (7%).

This research is the first to generate whole-mitochondrial DNA sequences from Iron Age and Roman period necropoleis, and demonstrates the ability to gain valuable information from the integration of aDNA, stable isotope, archaeological and historic evidence.

mtDNA haplogroup composition between Botromagno (7th – 4th century BCE; n=15) and Vagnari (1st – 4th century CE; n=30) skeletal assemblages.

Interesting excerpts:

Taken together, population pairwise ΦST, and the distribution of mtDNA haplotypes in relation to the comparative mtDNA data set show that the Iron Age southern Italians likely descended from early to late Neolithic farmers from Anatolia and possibly as far East as the Caucasus, and from migrants arriving from eastern Europe around the late Neolithic/early Bronze Age. These findings support previous hypotheses that the ancestors of the Iapygians may have originated in the eastern Balkan region, or derive shared ancestry with a common source population from eastern Europe. Alternatively, southern Italian Iron Age mtDNA variation might also reflect LGM gene flow between southwestern European, Mediterranean, and Carpathian basin refugia, which was suggested for haplogroup subclusters of U5 and J (Malyarchuk et al., 2010; Pala et al., 2012). Future mtDNA (and nuclear DNA) analysis comprised of a larger Iron Age data set from southern Italy is necessary to answer Theodor Mommsen’s initial hypothesis that the Iapygians were the oldest immigrants to the southern Italian region.

Our investigation provides the first mtDNA evidence for the maternal ancestral affiliations of a subset of the Iapygian individuals recovered from southern Italy, and suggests a closer genetic link to European Neolithic and Iron Age Armenians, than to Bronze Age Aegeans. Future comparative ancient DNA data using whole-genome SNP, mtDNA, and NRY-chromosome analysis of pre-Roman populations will provide complementary evidence for the ancestral roots of understudied Iron Age individuals from Italy.

Simplistic map of Illyrian colonies in Italy 550 BCE, from Wikipedia

Archaeological evidence indicates that the Iapygians traded and incorporated Hellenistic elements into their material and cultural traditions (Small, 1992; Peruzzi, 2016). These changes are most apparent in burial custom and ceramic production, and become increasingly prominent by 2400 BP (Peruzzi, 2016). Further evidence shows that Iron Age communities across South Italy retracted in size amidst ongoing conflict between colonies in Magna Graecia, and Rome and Carthage (Small, 1992). This apparent change was interpreted as a decline in local populations throughout the region. However, Bayesian Skygrid analysis using the mtDNA profiles of 15 Iapygians and 30 Roman period individuals suggest that female effective population size was comparable between the two populations. In Chapter 4, population distance (measured as population pairwise ΦST values) across a range of mtDNAs obtained from the pan-Mediterranean, European, and western Asian regions suggest closer maternal affinities to Neolithic and Bronze Age populations from the eastern Mediterranean as a cohort, than with Iron Age Italians. This finding points to moderate mtDNA turnover, and is likely the consequence of Roman gene flow stemming from central and northern Italy via the migration and subsequent occupation by Roman colonies after 2250 BP.

Roman Imperial pursuits peaked by ~2050 BP. This extension of power, coupled with an increase in food and materials procurement, was driven by a substantial labour force comprised of both low status Romans and slaves (Harris, 1980; Bradley, 1987, 1994, 2000). Although several attempts have been made to quantify the number of slaves required to maintain the Roman economy, it is unknown what fraction of the Roman population was slave-owned (~approximately 1 to 3 million by 2050 BP) (Scheidel, 2005). Rome’s slave acquisition during the early centuries of the Republic was likely maintained through military campaigns and conquest, a trend that is well documented in Italy (Scheidel, 1997, 1999, 2005; Harris, 1999; Small, 2002). However, once territory was secured, local slave populations were likely maintained through one or a combination of the following: i) the importation of slaves from non-local regions, ii) were born to slave-owned parents, or iii) were voluntarily self-enslaved to acquire subsistence (Harris, 1999). The importation of foreign slaves was likely more costly than maintaining a self-reproducing slave population, especially in rural areas. As such, rural Roman necropoleis, such Vagnari, provide an opportune case to determine the local versus non-local demographic. Archaeological evidence suggests that Vagnari was involved in agriculture and industrial procurement, and was likely staffed by low-class individuals possibly including slaves (Small et al., 2000). However, without direct archaeological or epigraphic evidence, it is impossible to identify the proportion of slaves at rural sites.

Multi-dimensional scaling plots showing pairwise ΦST values by a) age and b) country. We removed age and geographic categories with less than 5 mtDNA sequence representation to reduce scaling stress, which decreased the sample size from 402 mtDNAs to n = 378 by age, and n= 382 by country. a) MDS plot of the mtDNA categorized by country of origin; b) MDS of mtDNA dataset by age spanning the Upper Paleolithic (pre-LGM) to the Roman period. IronAge 1 = Italian Iron Age samples; IronAge 2 = Armenian Iron Age samples; Roman 1 = Italian Roman samples; Roman 2 = Egyptian Roman samples; TIP = Third Intermediary Period (Egypt); LP = Late Period (Egypt); PP = Ptolemaic Period (Egypt).

(…) The isotope values presented in Chapter 3 obtained from 56 Roman individuals buried at Vagnari suggest that over half (58%) were born directly at Vagnari, with a further 34% originating from South Italy. Only 7% (3/43 with both δ18O and 87Sr/86Sr values) of the individuals sampled resulted in isotope values non-local to the southern peninsula. Two of these individuals originated from either northern Italy or, more broadly, from central Europe, while one individual likely originated from North Africa. Overall, the isotope data suggest a low number of immigrants at Vagnari, which conforms with the population pairwise (ΦST) data for the Iron Age and Roman mtDNAs, and suggests that as the Romans occupied the region, they populated their Imperial properties with people from central Italy (possible the region of Latium, and the surrounding environs of Rome). These results also integrate with the historical evidence concerning the Roman slave economy during the Imperial period. Future research using a larger comparative dataset comprised of pre-Roman and Roman period mtDNAs, δ18O and, 87Sr/86Sr results will refine the interpretations outlined here.

A paper from this thesis is already published in a peer-review journal, Mapping the origins of Imperial Roman workers (1st–4th century CE) at Vagnari, Southern Italy, using 87Sr/86Sr and δ18O variability, Am J Phys Anthropol (2018).


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.