How to interpret past human mobility patterns


New paper (behind paywall), Interpreting Past Human Mobility Patterns: A Model, by Reiter and Frei Eur J Archaeol (2019).

Interesting excerpts (modified for clarity; emphasis mine):

Present investigations of mobility can be divided into two main groups: 1) individual mobility, and 2) group mobility.

Research approach

(…) it is arguable that, ‘the reality of a mobile existence is far more complex than the ordering principles used to describe it’ (Wendrich & Barnard, 2008: 15). It seems that the most accurate means of modelling mobility is through a thorough examination of a variety of phenomena in combination with archaeological context. Notable examples of these defining criteria include:

  1. Mobility (length of time, season);
  2. Number of journeys;
  3. Segment of the population which moved (as defined by gender, age, health, occupation, or social position);
  4. General socio-political organization;
  5. Logistics and available modes of transport.


In an ideal world, these five categories should be investigated via multiple samples from multiple individuals from a site, region, and culture group who represent the full gamut of ages, sexes, and social levels. Unfortunately, the fragmentary nature of the archaeological record rarely includes material suitable for covering all parameters.

A mobility model

Thirty years ago, David Anthony criticized archaeologists for their approach to migration: ‘instead of developing the needed tools, archaeologists have avoided the subject’ (Anthony, 1990: 895).

Although there are (and always will be) holes in the record, we propose a mobility model composed of four over-arching mobility patterns which we have named as follows:

NOTE. Cases explored in the paper are within brackets.

  1. Non-migratory [no mobility: The Case of Singen (Germany)];
  2. Point-to-point migratory [The Case of the Skrydstrup Woman (Denmark)];
  3. Back-and-forth [The case of Haraldskaer Woman (Denmark)];
  4. Repeated mobility, subdivided into
    • Cyclical mobility [The cases of Nieder-Mörlen (Germany) and Ötzi (Italy)]
    • Non-cyclical mobility [The cases of the medieval Silk Road, Roman York, Viking Age Trelleborg, and La Tène Bohemia]


All told, the mobility patterns identified in the present model cleave to three overarching kinds of mobility: non-mobility, single mobility/migration, and multiple movements. The causes of non-mobility and different types of mobility can be manifold.

Non-mobility may include lack of sufficient funds or surplus, social obligations, health status, age, and social standing (serf, slave, landed gentry).

Single, unidirectional movements may have been caused by marriage alliances; family movements; social, political, or economic instability; violence (enslavement, kidnapping); or health issues.

By contrast, individuals who show evidence of multiple movement were likely to have been moving because mobility formed part of their employment, beliefs (ritual), or lifestyle. Although a warrior or soldier, herder, trader, or traveller within an extensive kinship network may present very different mobility patterns, they are all unified by the fact that their chosen occupation or social group(s) exhibit some form of mobility mandate.

The causes of back-and-forth mobility are difficult to define as different reasons could spur a single to-and-from journey to a specific place of cultural, religious, or personal importance.

Repeated mobility, be it cyclical or more irregular (non-cyclical), can also be closely related to social status. For example, a peddler, small-scale trader, or migrant worker’s identity and integration (or nonintegration) into the society (or societies) with which they have contact can be defined by their transitory lifestyles. (…) both the profession and its mobile nature removed metalworkers from ‘normal’ society; in many cases, they formed a separate social category (Neipert, 2006). This could also be the case with warriors. Although contact with migratory workers or specialists was necessary for temporary collaboration, prolonged contact might involve severe social change (Neaher, 1979; Bollig, 1987).


Expansion of domesticated goat echoes expansion of early farmers


New paper (behind paywall) Ancient goat genomes reveal mosaic domestication in the Fertile Crescent, by Daly et al. Science (2018) 361(6397):85-88.

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

Thus, our data favor a process of Near Eastern animal domestication that is dispersed in space and time, rather than radiating from a central core (3, 11). This resonates with archaeozoological evidence for disparate early management strategies from early Anatolian, Iranian, and Levantine Neolithic sites (12, 13). Interestingly, our finding of divergent goat genomes within the Neolithic echoes genetic investigation of early farmers. Northwestern Anatolian and Iranian human Neolithic genomes are also divergent (14–16), which suggests the sharing of techniques rather than large-scale migrations of populations across Southwest Asia in the period of early domestication. Several crop plants also show evidence of parallel domestication processes in the region (17).

PCA affinity (Fig. 2), supported by qpGraph and outgroup f3 analyses, suggests that modern European goats derive from a source close to the western Neolithic; Far Eastern goats derive from early eastern Neolithic domesticates; and African goats have a contribution from the Levant, but in this case with considerable admixture from the other sources (figs. S11, S16, and S17 and tables S26 and 27). The latter may be in part a result of admixture that is discernible in the same analyses extended to ancient genomes within the Fertile Crescent after the Neolithic (figs. S18 and S19 and tables S20, S27, and S31) when the spread of metallurgy and other developments likely resulted in an expansion of inter-regional trade networks and livestock movement.

Maximumlikelihood phylogeny and geographical distributions of ancient mtDNA haplogroups. (A) A phylogeny placing ancient whole mtDNA sequences in the context of known haplogroups. Symbols denoting individuals are colored by clade membership; shape indicates archaeological period (see key). Unlabeled nodes are modern bezoar and outgroup sequence (Nubian ibex) added for reference.We define haplogroup T as the sister branch to the West Caucasian tur (9). (B and C) Geographical distributions of haplogroups show early highly structured diversity in the Neolithic period (B) followed by collapse of structure in succeeding periods (C).We delineate the tiled maps at 7250 to 6950 BP, a period >bracketing both our earliest Chalcolithic sequence (24, Mianroud) and latest Neolithic (6, Aşağı Pınar). Numbered archaeological sites also include Direkli Cave (8), Abu Ghosh (9), ‘Ain Ghazal (10), and Hovk-1 Cave (11) (table S1) (9).

Our results imply a domestication process carried out by humans in dispersed, divergent, but communicating communities across the Fertile Crescent who selected animals in early millennia, including for pigmentation, the most visible of domestic traits.


Pasture usage by ancient pastoralists in Middle and Late Bronze Age Kazakhstan


Open access Pasture usage by ancient pastoralists in the northern Kazakh steppe informed by carbon and nitrogen isoscapes of contemporary floral biomes, by Miller et al. Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2018).

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

Bronze age settlement, society, and subsistence in the northern Kazakh steppe

The Middle to Late Bronze Age (2200 to 1400 cal BCE) in the northern Kazakh steppe encompassed a major shift in settlement patterns from semi-sedentary pastoralism to more dispersed, mobile lifeways engaged in pastoral nomadism (Tkacheva 1999; Grigory’ev 2002; Koryakova and Epimakhov 2007; Kuz’mina 2007; Tkacheva and Tkachev 2008). Middle Bronze Age (2200 to 1700 cal BCE) settlements had large enclosures consisting of an earthen wall and ditch. Inside the enclosure, earthen domestic structures with shared walls (numbering from 30 to 60) housed an estimated 200 to 700 individuals (Gening et al. 1992; Grigor’yev 2002; Anthony 2007; Kohl 2007; Koryakova and Epimakhov 2007; Hanks 2009; Batanina and Hanks 2013). MBA settlements were repeatedly occupied, evidenced by successive building phases that added structures and enlarged enclosures. Aggregated MBA sites are situated between 40 and 60 km apart, and landscapes between enclosed settlements may have been territories of particular settlements (Epimakhov 2002; Zdanovich and Batanina 2002; Merrony et al. 2009; Stobbe et al. 2016). While there is currently no archeological evidence for structures such as animal corrals or walls outside of MBA settlement enclosures, open areas within settlements may have been used to house livestock. Reconstructions of landscape use in the vicinity of MBA sites determined that pastures within 4 km of the site could have supported herd sizes large enough to sustain sedentary livestock herders (Stobbe et al. 2016). During the subsequent Late Bronze Age (1800 to 1400 cal BCE) settlements were more dispersed across the landscape and significantly smaller, consisting of fewer than 20 dwellings, further lacking enclosures and building phases (Kuz’mina 2007:36–8; Zakh and Ilyushina 2010). This shift in settlement size and distribution has been interpreted to indicate the emergence of nomadic pastoralism and the intensification of long-distance mobility (Tkacheva 1999; Grigory’ev 2000; Kuz’mina 2007; Tkacheva and Tkachev 2008).

MBA communities engaged in pastoralism and supplemented their diets with wild plants and wild game (Krause and Koryakova 2013; Ventresca Miller et al. 2014a; Hanks et al. 2018). A variety of wild plants have been recovered during flotation, but so far, domesticated grains have not been recovered (Krause and Koryakova 2013; Ng 2013; Hanks et al. 2018). Carbon and nitrogen stable isotope analyses of bone collagen indicate that human dietary intake in the MBA focused on terrestrial animal protein, likely in the form of meat and milk, which was supplemented by locally available fish and wild plants (Ventresca Miller et al. 2014a; Hanks et al. 2018). While the subsequent LBA has been interpreted as a shift to nomadic pastoralism, little data is available regarding landscape use or herd management strategies for this period. Paleodietary studies suggest that human diets during the LBA focused on pastoral products and were supplemented by wild plants, fish, and wild animals (Ventresca Miller et al. 2014a, 2014b).

Location of the archeological sites of Bestamak (MBA), Kamennyi Ambar (MBA), Bolshekaragansky (MBA), and Lisakovsk (LBA)


A major shift in patterns of settlement occurred at the Middle to Late Bronze Age transition, from large semi-sedentary populations in enclosed settlements to smaller populations in open settlements dispersed across the landscape. Scholars have suggested that animal management strategies also changed at this time from semi-sedentary pastoralism to more mobile forms of pastoral nomadism. However, our findings suggest that livestock management practices did not shift in concert with social landscapes, demonstrating consistency in pastoral adaptations through time in the region. Similar isotopic patterning between livestock during the MBA and LBA across several sites in the CES indicates that there were no changes across time in pasture usage patterns. Among ancient livestock, differences in δ13C and δ15N values between horses and ruminants (cattle, sheep, goat) strongly suggest that livestock were grazed pastures either extensively or intensively, respectively. Horses grazed in open steppe areas or intermittently in areas with well-watered soils that lacked salinity, likely staying well outside of settlements. In contrast, cattle and sheep/goat grazed in pastures across multiple zones, both near the settlement and in non-local pastures that were grazed intensively. A wider range of δ13C and δ15N values among ruminants at Kamennyi Ambar (MBA) suggests that aggregated human populations may have had larger herds, some of which accessed non-local pastures outside of the easily accessible territories surrounding enclosed sites. Continued research on the isotopic composition of vegetation surrounding Bronze Age sites should clarify patterns of landscape use between MBA sites.


Immigration and transhumance in the Early Bronze Age Carpathian Basin

Interesting excerpts about local Hungarian groups that had close contacts with Yamna settlers in the Carpathian Basin, from the paper Immigration and transhumance in the Early Bronze Age Carpathian Basin: the occupants of a kurgan, by Gerling, Bánffy, Dani, Köhler, Kulcsár, Pike, Szeverényi & Heyd, Antiquity (2012) 86(334):1097-1111.

The most interesting of the local people is the occupant of grave 12, which is the earliest grave in the kurgan and the main statistical range of its radiocarbon date clearly predates the arrival of the western Yamnaya groups c. 3000 BC. This is also confirmed by the burial rite, which is not typical for the Yamnaya (Dani 2011: 29–33; Heyd in press), although some heterogeneity may apply in Yamnaya communities too. The migrant group, graves nos. 4, 7, 9 and 11, all occupy late stratigraphic positions in the mound, and have radiocarbon dates in the second quarter of the third millennium BC. It is also noteworthy that they are all adult or mature men. The contextual data, their physical distribution over the space of the whole kurgan, and the variety of burial practices, indicate several generations of burials. The cultural attributes of this group are summarised in Figure 5. Overall, their closest match lies in the Livezile group from the eastern and southern Apuseni Mountains, which is also the likely place of origin of the buried persons.

Cultural geography of the Carpathian Basin in the first half of the third millennium BC (in black: archaeological cultures and groups dating roughly to the first quarter; in red: those dating to the second quarter). Indicated also are regions and sites mentioned in the text.

The key question is, what cultural process could be responsible for attracting these men from their homeland to the Great Hungarian Plain, over several generations? Their sex and age uniformity indicate they are a social sub-set within a larger group, implying that only a portion of their society was on the move. Exogamy can probably be excluded, since one would expect more women than men to move in prehistoric times; not to mention the distance of more than 200km between the places of potential origin and burial.

One hypothesis would see these men involved in the exchange of goods, with long-term relations between the mountain and steppe communities. Normally living in, or next to, the Apuseni, these men would journey for weeks into the plain, returning to the same places and people over many decades. Ethnographic examples of such travels to exchange objects and ideas, and perhaps people, are numerous (e.g. Helms 1988). However, the child’s (grave 7a) local isotopic signature would remain unexplained, and one has to wonder for how many generations an exchange continues for four men to die near the Őrhalom.

A second hypothesis is essentially an economic model of transhumance, with livestock passing the winter and spring in the milder regions of the Great Hungarian Plain, and returning to higher pastures in the warmer months (Arnold & Greenfield 2006). Such systems can endure for centuries, provided the social relations underpinning them are stable. This has the advantage of accounting for relatively long periods of time spent away from home, as herdsmen guarded their animals, and perhaps some women and their children came too, which would account for the child’s presence, and the pottery relations of the Livezile group. Furthermore, regular visits to a region would increase the likelihood of Livezile transhumant herders becoming integrated locally. The second quarter of the third millennium BC was a period when Yamnaya ideology, and thus its internal coherence, might have already diminished. This would likely have resulted in a weakened grip by Yamnaya people on pastures and territory, consequently allowing Livezile herders, and potentially others, to step in and take over locally, perhaps first on a seasonal basis and then permanently.

On West Yamna settlers in Hungary

Modified table from Wang et al. (2018) Supplementary materials (in bold, Yamna and related samples; in red, newly reported samples). “Supplementary Table 18. P values of rank=1 and admixture coefficients of modelling the Steppe ancestry populations as a two-way admixture of the Eneolithic_steppe and Globular_Amphora using 14 outgroups. Left populations: Steppe cluster, Eneolithic_steppe, Globular Amphora Right populations: Mbuti.DG, Ust_Ishim.DG, Kostenki14, MA1, Han.DG, Papuan.DG, Onge.DG, Villabruna, Vestonice16, ElMiron, Ethiopia_4500BP.SG, Karitiana.DG, Natufian, Iran_Ganj_Dareh_Neolithic.”

By disclosing very interesting information on (yet unpublished) Yamna samples from Hungary, the latest preprint from the Reich Lab has rendered irrelevant – in a rather surprising turn of events – (what I expected would be) future discussions on West Yamna settlers potentially sharing a similar ancestry with Baltic Late Neolithic / Corded Ware settlers (see here for more details).

Interesting excerpts regarding the tight cluster formed by all Yamna samples:

Individuals from the North Caucasian steppe associated with the Yamnaya cultural formation (5300-4400 BP, 3300-2400 calBCE) appear genetically almost identical to previously reported Yamnaya individuals from Kalmykia20 immediately to the north, the middle Volga region19, 27, Ukraine and Hungary, and to other Bronze Age individuals from the Eurasian steppes who share the characteristic ‘steppe ancestry’ profile as a mixture of EHG and CHG/Iranian ancestry23, 28. These individuals form a tight cluster in PCA space (Figure 2) and can be shown formally to be a mixture by significantly negative admixture f3-statistics of the form f3(EHG, CHG; target) (Supplementary Fig. 3).

Using qpAdm with Globular Amphora as a proximate surrogate population (assuming that a related group was the source of the Anatolian farmer-related ancestry), we estimated the contribution of Anatolian farmer-related ancestry into Yamnaya and other steppe groups. We find that Yamnaya individuals from the Volga region (Yamnaya Samara) have 13.2±2.7% and Yamnaya individuals in Hungary 17.1±4.1% Anatolian farmer-related ancestry (Fig.4; Supplementary Table 18)– statistically indistinguishable proportions.

Yamna – Bell Beaker migration according to Heyd (2007, 2012)

Before this paper, we had the solidest anthropological models backed by Y-DNA against conflicting data from certain statistical tools applied to a few samples (which some used to contradict what was mainstream in Academia).

NOTE. I have discussed this extensively in this blog, and more than once. See for example my posts on R1a speaking IE (July 2017), on the Eneolithic Ukraine sample (September 2017), or on the “Yamnaya ancestral component” (November 2017).

Today, we have everything – including statistical tools – showing a genetically homogeneous, Late PIE-speaking late Khvalynsk/Yamna community expanding into its known branches, confirming what was described using traditional anthropological disciplines:

  • Late Khvalynsk expanding into Afanasevo ca. 3300-3000 BC with an archaic Late PIE dialect, which was attested much later as Tocharian;
  • East Yamna/Poltavka admixing with Uralic-speaking Abashevo migrants probably ca. 2600-2100 BC to form Proto-Indo-Iranian-speaking Sintashta-Petrovka and Potapovka;
  • and now also Yamna settlers: those in Hungary admixing (probably ca. 2800-2500 BC) with the local population to form North-West Indo-European-speaking East Bell Beakers; those from the Balkans forming other IE-speaking Balkan cultures, including the peoples that admixed in Greece, as seen in Mycenaeans.

If Volker Heyd is right with this and other papers – and he has been right until now in his predictions regarding Yamna, Bell Beaker, and Corded Ware cultures – , the change in ancestry will probably begin to be noticed in Yamna samples from Hungary and the Lower Danube during the second quarter of the 3rd millennium, a period defined by the addition of a more fashionable western Proto-Bell Beaker package to the fading traditional Yamna cultural package.

EDIT (19 MAY 2018): I corrected some sentences and added interesting information.


Corded Ware pastoral herding economy and belief system through mortuary practices


On the scent of an animal skin: new evidence on Corded Ware mortuary practices in Northern Europe, Antiquity (2018) 92(361):118-131.

Abstract (emphasis mine):

The Late Neolithic Corded Ware Culture (c. 2800–2300 BC) of Northern Europe is characterised by specific sets of grave goods and mortuary practices, but the organic components of these grave sets are poorly represented in the archaeological record. New microscopic analyses of soil samples collected during the 1930s from the Perttulanmäki grave in western Finland have, however, revealed preserved Neolithic animal hairs. Despite mineralisation, the species of animal has been successfully identified and offers the oldest evidence for domestic goat in Neolithic Finland, indicating a pastoral herding economy. The mortuary context of the goat hair also suggests that animals played a significant role in the Corded Ware belief system.


Although the material culture used in Corded Ware funerary rituals is well known, a full appreciation of the associated mortuary practices is still lacking. In fact, even though evidence for internal wooden and stone structures is commonly documented in Corded Ware mortuary contexts (e.g. Fischer 1956; Malmer 1962; Hansen 1994; Vander Linden 2007), detailed information on the ways that structures within the grave might have been furnished is largely missing. The use of textiles, mats and furs to cover grave pit walls and floors is commonly documented in Yamnaya Culture graves (Heyd 2011). This culture represents the best-known proxy for the incoming gene-flow that occurred in Europe during the third millennium BC, resulting in the formation of the Corded Ware phenomenon (Allentoft et al. 2015; Haak et al. 2015; Kristiansen et al. 2017). Similar practices may, therefore, have occurred in the Corded Ware tradition. In fact, the Corded Ware graves already show strong affinities to the Yamnaya burial rituals; for example, in the practice of a single inhumation under a barrow (Kristiansen et al. 2017: 336). New information on Corded Ware mortuary practices has come from the northern periphery of the cultural area. The results are based on microscopic analyses conducted on soil samples collected from the Perttulanmäki Corded Ware grave in western Finland (Figure 1). These analyses suggest that a goat skin had been placed in the grave. This discovery is important as it provides clear evidence of a mortuary practice that has only in rare cases been previously suspected (e.g. Torvinen 1979; Meurkens et al. 2015).

Location of the Perttulanmäki site. The distribution of the Corded Ware phenomenon in Finland is marked in
orange. Map: K. Vajanto.

The animal accompaniment could be present in various forms. Several Corded Ware burials in the Baltic area have been furnished with artefacts made of domestic animal bone (Zagorska 2006: 103; Lõugas et al. 2007: 25–26; Larsson 2009: 63). That all milk residues from Finnish Corded Ware pottery were found exclusively in beakertype ‘drinking’ vessels (Cramp et al. 2014: 4) further supports this idea. These beakers are usually found in grave deposits (Edgren 1970: 76–77; Larsson 2009: 352), so the animal could have also been represented by placing milk, or a vessel connected with milk, in the grave (Edgren 1970: 76–77; Larsson 2009: 352). This being said, it must be noted that, due to the vast distribution area of the Corded Ware phenomenon, the same objects or symbols might not have been connected with the same ideas (Furholt 2014: 82). Moreover, some prehistoric societies might have also repeated the ritual practice simply as tradition—after its original meaning had been forgotten (Nilsson Stutz 2003: 319).

Interesting indeed regarding the culture behind Corded Ware herders in the Baltic Sea (quite likely speakers of Uralic languages) but also formally the emphasis on Yamna as a proxy population for Corded Ware migrants (which we had already seen in geneticists answering to criticism).

Interesting also how an article about the Corded Ware culture selects Volker Heyd – an expert in Yamna migration and in the Yamna -> Bell Beaker migration, who rejects a relationship between Yamna and Corded Ware migrants, and between Corded Ware and Bell Beaker peoples – over Kristiansen and his IE-CWC research group, who are supposedly the fashionable experts in CWC right now for certain amateur geneticists…

It would seem as if academic pressure is making the hype around (the wrong interpretations of) the 2015 papers (and the group behind them) fade…

See also: