Baltic Finns in the Bronze Age, of hg. R1a-Z283 and Corded Ware ancestry


Open access The Arrival of Siberian Ancestry Connecting the Eastern Baltic to Uralic Speakers further East, by Saag et al. Current Biology (2019).

Interesting excerpts:

In this study, we present new genomic data from Estonian Late Bronze Age stone-cist graves (1200–400 BC) (EstBA) and Pre-Roman Iron Age tarand cemeteries (800/500 BC–50 AD) (EstIA). The cultural background of stone-cist graves indicates strong connections both to the west and the east [20, 21]. The Iron Age (IA) tarands have been proposed to mirror “houses of the dead” found among Uralic peoples of the Volga-Kama region [22].

(…) The 33 individuals included 15 from EstBA, 6 from EstIA, 5 from Pre-Roman to Roman Iron Age Ingria (500 BC–450 AD) (IngIA), and 7 from Middle Age Estonia (1200–1600 AD) (EstMA) and yielded endogenous DNA ∼4%–88%, average genomic coverages ∼0.017–0.734×, and contamination estimates <4% (Table S1). We analyzed the data in the context of modern and other ancient individuals, including from Neolithic Estonia [13].

Archaeological Information, Genetic Sex, mtDNA and Y Chromosome Haplogroups, and Average Coverage of the Individuals of This Study. Modified from the paper to mark distinct Y-DNA haplogroups in the LBA and IA.

We identified chrY hgs for 30 male individuals (Tables 1 and S2; STAR Methods). All 16 successfully haplogrouped EstBA males belonged to hg R1a, showing no change from the CWC period, when this was also the only chrY lineage detected in the Eastern Baltic [11, 13, 30, 31]. Three EstIA and two IngIA individuals also belonged to hg R1a, but three EstIA males belonged to hg N3a, the earliest so far observed in the Eastern Baltic. Three EstMA individuals belonged to hg N3a, two to hg R1a, and one to hg J2b. ChrY lineages found in the Baltic Sea region before the CWC belong to hgs I, R1b, R1a5, and Q [10, 11, 12, 13, 17, 32]. Thus, it appears that these lineages were substantially replaced in the Eastern Baltic by hg R1a [10, 11, 12, 13], most likely through steppe migrations from the east [30, 31]. (…) Our results enable us to conclude that, although the expansion time for R1a1 and N3a3′5 in Eastern Europe is similar [25], hg N3a likely reached Estonia or at least became comparably frequent to modern Estonia [1] only during the BA-IA transition.

A clear shift toward West Eurasian hunter-gatherers is visible between European LN and BA (including Baltic CWC) and EstBA individuals, the latter clustering together with Latvian and Lithuanian BA individuals [11]. EstIA, IngIA, and EstMA individuals project between BA individuals and modern Estonians, partially overlapping with both.

(…) EstBA individuals are clearly distinguishable from Estonian CWC individuals as the former have more of the blue component most frequent in WHGs and less of the brown and yellow components maximized in Caucasus hunter-gatherers and modern Khanty, respectively. The individuals of EstBA, EstIA, IngIA, EstMA, and modern Estonia are quite similar to each other on average, indicating that the relatively high proportion of WHG ancestry in modern Eastern Baltic populations compared to other present-day Europeans [15] traces back to the BA.

Detail of the PCA, modified from the paper to label populations. Estonian Bronze Age and Iron Age samples cluster close to Early Corded Ware from the Baltic.. Principal-component analysis results of modern West Eurasians with ancient individuals projected onto the first two components (PC1 and PC2). BA, Bronze Age; EF, early farmers; HG, hunter-gatherers; IA, Iron Age; IMA, Iron/Middle Ages; LN, Late Neolithic; LNBA, Late Neolithic/Bronze Age; MA, Middle Ages

When comparing Estonian CWC and EstBA using autosomal outgroup f3 and Patterson’s D statistics (Table S3), the latter is more similar to other Baltic BA populations, to Baltic IA and Middle Age (MA) populations, and also to populations similar to WHGs and Scandinavian hunter-gatherers (SHGs), but not to Estonian CCC (Figures 2A and S2A; Data S1). The increase in WHG or SHG ancestry could be connected to western influences seen in material culture [20, 21] and facilitated by a decline in local population after the CCC-CWC period [20]. A slight trend of bigger similarity of Estonian CWC to forest or steppe zone populations and of EstBA to European early farmer populations can also be seen.

(…) When comparing to modern populations, Estonian CWC is slightly more similar to Caucasus individuals but EstBA to Baltic populations and Finnic speakers (Figure 2B; Data S1). Outgroup f3 and D statistics do not reveal apparent differences when comparing EstBA to EstIA, EstIA to IngIA, and EstIA to EstMA (Data S1).

qpAdm results. Error bars indicate one SE. Central MN, Central European Middle Neolithic; EstBA, Estonian Bronze Age; EstIA, Estonian Iron Age; IngIA, Ingrian Iron Age; EstMA, Estonian Middle Ages; WHG, western hunter-gatherers.

These results highlight how uniparental and autosomal data can lead to different demographic inferences—the genetic change between CWC and BA not seen in uniparental lineages is clear in autosomal data and the appearance of chrY hg N in the IA is not matched by a clear shift in autosomal profiles.

EstBA individuals have no Nganasan-related ancestry and EstIA, IngIA, and EstMA individuals on average have 2% or 4% (Figure 3; Data S1). The differentiation remains when using BA or IA Fennoscandian populations [26] instead of Nganasans (Data S1). Notably, the proportion of Nganasan-related ancestry varies between 0% and 12% among sampled EstIA, IngIA, and EstMA individuals (Data S1), which may suggest its relatively recent admixture into the target population. Moreover, two individuals from Kunda (0LS10 and V10) have the highest proportions of Nganasan ancestry among EstIA (6% and 8%), one of them has chrY hg N3a, and isotopic analysis suggests neither individual being born in Kunda [34].

About these two males from Tarand-graves, ‘foreign’ to Kunda:

0LS10: Male from tarand III (burial 9; TÜ 1325: L777), age 17–25 years [34]. He had a fragment of a sheep/goat bone and ceramics as grave goods. This burial has two radiocarbon dates: 2430 ± 35 BP (Poz-10801; 760–400 cal BC) and 2530 ± 41 BP (UBA-26114; 800–530 cal BC) [34]. According to the isotopic analysis, the person was not born in the vicinity of Kunda; his place of birth is still unknown (but south-western Finland and Sweden are excluded) [34]. Sampled tooth r P1.

V10: Male from tarand XI (burial 24; TÜ 1325: L1925), age 25–35 years [34], date 2484 ± 40 BP (UBA-26115; 790–430 cal BC) [34]. He had a few potsherds near the skull. Likewise, this person was not locally born [34]. Sampled tooth l P1.

Autosomal Analyses’ Results for Gyvakarai1 as the closest available Corded Ware source for Balto-Finnic populations.

The paper shows thus:

  • Major continuity of ancestry from Corded Ware to modern Estonians, with only slight changes in different periods. In fact, one of the best fits for the Late Bronze Age ancestry is Gyvakarai1, one of the Corded Ware “outliers” described as “closer to Yamna”, which I already said may be closer to Sredni Stog/EHG populations instead. Another interesting take is that the change from Bronze Age to Iron Age corresponds to an increase in Baltic Corded Ware-related ancestry, rather than being driven by Siberian ancestry.
  • pca-mittnik-gyvakarai
    File modified by me from Mittnik et al. (2018) to include the approximate position of the most common ancestral components, and an identification of potential outliers. Zoomed-in version of the European Late Neolithic and Bronze Age samples. “Principal components analysis of 1012 present-day West Eurasians (grey points, modern Baltic populations in dark grey) with 294 projected published ancient and 38 ancient North European samples introduced in this study (marked with a red outline). From Mittnik et al. (2018).
  • A Volosovo-related migration of hg. N1c with Netted Ware into the area seems to be discarded, based on the full replacement of paternal lines and continuity of R1a-Z283. It is only during the Tarand-grave period when a system of chiefdoms (spread from Ananyino/Akozino) brings haplogroup N1c to the Gulf of Finland. During the Iron Age, the proportion of paternal lineages is still clearly in favour of R1a (50% in the coast, 100% in Ostrobothnia), which indicates a gradual replacement led by elites, likely because of the incorporation of Akozino warrior-traders spreading all over the Baltic, bringing the described shared Mordvinic traits in Fennic.
  • finno-ugric-haplogroup-n
    Map of archaeological cultures in north-eastern Europe ca. 8th-3rd centuries BC. [The Mid-Volga Akozino group not depicted] Shaded area represents the Ananino cultural-historical society. Fading purple arrows represent likely stepped movements of subclades of haplogroup N for centuries (e.g. Siberian → Ananino → Akozino → Fennoscandia [N-VL29]; Circum-Arctic → forest-steppe [N1, N2]; etc.). Blue arrows represent eventual expansions of Uralic peoples to the north. Modified image from Vasilyev (2002).
  • The arrival of Akozino warrior-traders (bringing N1c and R1a lineages) was probably linked to this minimal “Nganasan-like” ancestry of some samples in the transition to the Iron Age. This arrival is supported by samples 0LS10 (the earliest hg. N1c) and V10 (of hg. R1a), both dated to ca. 800-400 BC, with V10 showing the highest “Nganasan-like” ancestry with 4.8%, both of them neighbouring samples showing 0%. This variable admixture among local and foreign paternal lineages might support the described social system of family alliances with intermarriages. In fact, a medieval sample, 0LS03_1 (hg. R1a) also shows a recent “Nganasan-like” ancestry, which probably points to the integration of different Arctic-related ancestry components among Modern Estonians, in this case related to Finnish expansions and thus integration of Levänluhta-related ancestry, as per the supplementary data.
  • NOTE. Such minimal proportions of “Nganasan-like” ancestry evidence the process of admixture of Volga Finns in Akozino territory through their close interactions with Permians of Ananyino, who in turn acquired this Palaeo-Arctic admixture most likely during the expansion of the linguistic community to hunter-gatherer territories, to the north of the Cis-Urals. This process of stepped infiltration and expansion without language change is not dissimilar to the one seen among Indo-Iranians and Balto-Slavs of hg. R1b, or Vasconic speakers of hg. I2a, although in the case of Baltic Finns of hg. R1a the process of infiltration and expansion of hg. N1c is much less dramatic, with no radical replacement anywhere before the huge bottlenecks observable in Finns.

  • The expansion of haplogroup N1c among Finnic populations, as we are going to see in samples from the Middle Ages such as Luistari, is the consequence of late founder effects after huge bottlenecks expected based on the analysis of modern populations. The expansion of N1c-VL29 is different in origin from that of N1c-Z1936 among Samic (later integrated into Finnish populations), most likely from the east and originally associated with Lovozero Ware.
Frequency-Distribution Maps of Individual Subclade N3a3 / N1a1a1a1a1a-CTS2929/VL29, probably initially with Akozino warrior-traders. Map from Ilumäe et al. (2016).

In spite of all this, the conclusion of the paper is (surprise!) that Siberian ancestry and hg. N heralded the arrival of Finnic to the Gulf of Finland in the Iron Age… However, this conclusion is supposedly* supported, not by their previous papers, but by a recent phylogenetic study by Honkola et al. (2013), which doesn’t actually argue for such a late ‘arrival’: it argues for the split of Balto-Finnic around 1500 BC.

NOTE. I say ‘supposedly’ because Kristiina Tambets, for example, has been following the link of Uralic with haplogroup N since the 2000s, so this is not some conclusion they just happened to misread from some random paper they Googled. In those initial assessments, she argued that the “ancient homeland” of the Tat C mutation suggested that Finno-Ugrians were in Fennoscandia before Indo-Europeans. Apparently, since haplogroup N appears later and from the east, it is now more important to follow this haplogroup than what is established in archaeology and linguistics.

Even in the referred paper, this split is considered an in situ development, since the phylogenetic study takes the information – among others – 1) from Parpola and Carpelan, who consider Netted Ware, a culture derived from Fatyanovo/Abashevo and Volosovo, as the culprit of the Finno-Ugric expansion; and 2) from Kallio (2006), who clearly states that Proto-Balto-Finnic (like Proto-Finno-Samic) was spoken around the Gulf of Finland during the Bronze Age. Both of them set the terminus ante quem of the language presence in the Baltic ca. 1900 BC.

Anyways, as a consequence of geneticists keeping these untenable pre-ancient DNA haplogroup-based arguments today, I expect to see this “Finnic” language expansion also described for the Western Baltic, Scandinavia or northern Europe, when this same proportion of hg. N1c and “Nganasan” ancestry is observed in Iron Age samples around the Baltic Sea. The nativist trends that this domination of “Finns” all over Northern Europe 2,500 years ago will create will be even more fun to read than the current ones…

EDIT (10 May 2019) How I see the reaction of many to ancient DNA, in keeping their old theories:


Yekaterinovsky Cape, a link between the Samara culture and early Khvalynsk


We already had conflicting information about the elite individual from the Yekaterinovsky Cape and the materials of his grave, which seemed quite old:

For the burial of 45 in the laboratory of the University of Pennsylvania, a 14C date was obtained: PSUAMS-2880 (Sample ID 16068)> 30 kDa gelatin Russia. 12, Ekaterinovka Grave 45 14C age (BP) 6325 ± 25 δ 13C (‰) –23.6 δ15 N (‰) 14.5. The results of dating suggest chronological proximity with typologically close materials from Yasinovatsky and Nikolsky burial grounds (Telegini et al. 2001: 126). The date obtained also precedes the existing dates for the Khvalynsk culture (Morgunova 2009: 14–15), which, given the dominance of Mariupol traits of the burial rite and inventory, confirms its validity. However, the date obtained for human bones does not exclude the possibility of a “reservoir effect” when the age can increase three or more centuries (Shishlin et al. 2006: 135–140).

Now the same date is being confirmed by the latest study published on the site, by Korolev, Kochkina, and Stachenkov (2019) and it seems it is really going to be old. Abstract (in part the official one, in part newly translated for clarity):

For the first time, pottery of the Early Eneolithic burial ground Ekaterinovsky Cape is published. Ceramics were predominantly located on the sacrificial sites in the form of compact clusters of fragments. As a rule, such clusters were located above the burials, sometimes over the burials, some were sprinkled with ocher. The authors have identified more than 70 vessels, some of which have been partially reconstructed. Ceramic was made with inclusion of the crushed shell into molding mass. The rims of vessels had the thickened «collar»; the bottoms had a rounded shape. The ornament was located on the rims and the upper part of the potteries. Fully decorated vessels are rare. The vessels are ornamented with prints of comb and rope stamps, with small pits. A particularity of ceramics ornamentation is presented by the imprints of soft stamps (leather?) or traces of leather form for the making of vessels. The ornamentation, made up of «walking comb» and incised lines, was used rarely as well as the belts of pits made decoration under «collar» of a rim. Some features of the ceramics decoration under study relate it with ceramics of the Khvalynsk culture. The ceramics of Ekaterinovsky Cape burial ground is attributed by the authors to the Samara culture. The ceramic complex under study has proximity to the ceramics from Syezzhe burial ground and the ceramics of the second phase of Samara culture. The chronological position is determined by the authors as a later period than the ceramics from the Syezzhe burial ground, and earlier than the chronological position of ceramics of the Ivanovka stage of the Samara culture and the Khvalynsk culture.

Ceramics from Ekaterinovsky Cape burial ground. 1–2, 4–5, 7–11 – ceramics from aggregations; 3, 6 – ceramics from the cultural layer.

More specifically:

Based on ceramic fragments from a large vessel from a cluster of sq.m. 14, the date received was: SPb-2251–5673 ± 120 BP. The second date was obtained in fragments from the aggregation [see picture above] from the cluster of sq.m. 45–46: SPb-2252–6372 ± 100 BP. The difference in dating indicates that the process of determining the chronology of the burial ground is far from complete, although we note that the earlier date almost coincided with the date obtained from the human bone from individual 45 (Korolev, Kochkina, Stashenkov, 2018, p. 300).

Therefore, the ceramics of the burial ground Ekaterinovsky Cape possess an originality that determines the chronological position of the burial ground between the earliest materials of the burial type in Syezzhe and the Khvalynsk culture. Techno-typological features of dishes make it possible to attribute it to the Samara culture at the stage preceding the appearance of Ivanovska-Khvalynsk ceramics.

It seems that this site showed cultural influences from the upstream region near the Kama-Vyatka interfluve, too, according to Korolev, Kochkina, Stashenkov, and Khokhlov (2018):

In 2017, excavation of burial ground Ekaterinovsky Cape were continued, located in the area of the confl uence of the Bezenchuk River in the Volga River. During the new excavations, 14 burials were studied. The skeleton of the buried were in a position elongated on the back, less often – crooked on the back with knees bent at the knees. In one burial (No. 90), a special position of the skeleton was recorded. In the burial number 90 in the anatomical order, parts of the male skeleton. This gave grounds for the reconstruction of his original position in a semi-sitting position with the support of elbows on the bottom of the pit. Noteworthy inventory: on the pelvic bones on the left lay a bone spoon, near the right humerus, the pommel of a cruciform club was found. A conclusion is made about the high social status of the buried. The results of the analysis of the burial allow us to outline the closest circle of analogies in the materials of Khvalynsky I and Murzikhinsky burial grounds.

Important sites mentioned in both papers and in this text:

To sum up, it seems that the relative dates we have used until now have to be corrected: older Khvalynsk I Khvalynsk II individuals, supposedly dated ca. 5200-4000 BC (most likely after 4700 BC), and younger Yekaterinovsky individuals, supposedly of the fourth quarter of the 5th millennium (ca. 4250-4000 BC), are possibly to be considered, in fact, roughly reversed, if not chronologically, at least culturally speaking.

Interestingly, this gives a new perspective to the presence of a rare fish- or reptile-headed pommel-scepter, which would be natural in a variable period of expansion of the horse and horse-related symbolism, a cultural trait rooted in the Samara culture attested in Syezzhe before the unification of the symbol of power under the ubiquitous Khvalynsk-Suvorovo horse-headed scepters and related materials.

Ekaterinovsky Cape Burial Ground. Inventory of the burial no 90: 1, 2 – stone pommel of the mace; 3, 4 – bone article.

The Khvalynsk chieftain

If the reported lineages from Yekaterinovsky Cape are within the R1b-P297 tree, but without further clades, as Yleaf comparisons may suggest, there is not much change to what we have, and R1b-M269 could actually represent a part of the local population, but also incomers from the south (e.g. the north Caspian steppe hunter-gatherers like Kairshak), the east (with hunter-gatherer pottery), or the west near the Don River (in contact with Mariupol-related cultures, as the authors inferred initially from material culture).

Just like R1a-M417 became incorporated into the Sredni Stog groups after the Novodanilovka-Suvorovo expansion, probably as incoming hunter-gatherer pottery groups from the north admixing with peoples of “Steppe ancestry”, R1b-M269 lineages might have expanded explosively only during the Repin expansion, and maybe (like R1b-L51 later) they formed just a tiny part of the clans that dominated the steppe during the Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka community.

On the other hand, the potential finding of various R1b-M269/L23 samples in Yekaterinovsky Cape (including an elite individual) would suggest now, as it was supported in the original report by Mathieson et al. (2015), that these ancient R1b lineages found in the Volga – Ural region are in fact most likely all R1b-M269 without enough coverage to obtain proper SNP calls, which would simplify the picture of Neolithic expansions (yet again). From the supplementary materials:

10122 / SVP35 (grave 12). Male (confirmed genetically), age 20-30, positioned on his back with raised knees, with 293 copper artifacts, mostly beads, amounting to 80% of the copper objects in the combined cemeteries of Khvalynsk I and II. Probably a high-status individual, his Y-chromosome haplotype, R1b1, also characterized the high-status individuals buried under kurgans in later Yamnaya graves in this region, so he could be regarded as a founder of an elite group of patrilineally related families. His MtDNA haplotype H2a1 is unique in the Samara series.

Khvalynsk cemetery and grave gifts. Grave 90 contained copper beads and rings, a harpoon, flint blades, and a bird-bone tube. Both graves (90 and 91) were partly covered by Sacrificial Deposit 4 with the bones from a horse, a sheep, and a cow. Center: grave goods from the Khvalynsk cemetery-copper rings and bracelets, polished stone mace heads, polished stone bracelet, Cardium shell ornaments, boars tusk chest ornaments, flint blades, and bifiacial projectile points. Bottom: shell-tempered pottery from the Khvalynsk cemetery. After Agapov, Vasiliev, and Pestrikova 1990; and Ryndina 1998, Figure 31. Modified from Anthony (2007).

This remarkable Khvalynsk chieftain, whose rich assemblage may correspond to the period of domination of the culture all over the Pontic-Caspian steppes, has been consistently reported as of hg. R1b-L754 in all publications, including Wang et al. (2018/2019) tentative SNP calls in the supplementary materials (obtained with Yleaf, as the infamous Narasimhan et al. 2018 samples), but has been variously reported by amateurs as within the R1b-M73, R1b-V88, or (lately) R1b-V1636 trees, which makes it unlikely that quality of the sample is allowing for a proper SNP call.

The fact that Mathieson et al. (2015) considered it a member of the R1b-M269 clans appearing later in Yamna seems on point right now, especially if samples from Yekaterinovka are all within this tree. The relevance of R1b-L23 in the expansion of Repin and Yamna is reminiscent of the influence of successful clans among Yamna offshoots, such as Bell Beakers, and among Bell Beaker offshoots during the Bronze Age all over Europe.

Taking these younger expansions as example, it seems quite likely based on cultural links that (at least part of) the main clans of Khvalynsk were of R1b-M269 lineage, stemming from a R1b-dominated Samara culture, in line with the known succeeding expansions and the expected strictly patriarcal and patrilineal society of Proto-Indo-Europeans, which would have exacerbated the usual reduction in Y-chromosome haplogroup variability that happens during population expansions, and the aversion towards foreign groups while the culture lasted.

Cultures of the Pontic-Caspian steppes and forest-steppes and surrounding areas during the Neolithic.

The finding of R1b-L23 in Yekaterinovka, associated with the Samara culture, before or during the Khvalynsk expansion, and close to the Khvalynsk site, would make this Khvalynsk chieftain most likely a member of the M269 tree (paradoxically, the only R1b-L754 branch amateurs have not yet reported for it). Similarly, the sample of a “Samara hunter-gatherer” of Lebyazhinka, of hg. R1b-P297, could also be under this tree, just like most R1b-M269 from Yamna are downstream from R1b-L23, and most reported R1b-M269 or R1b-L23 from Bell Beakers are under R1b-L151.

On the other hand, we know of the shortcomings of attributing a haplogroup expansion to the best known rulers, such as the famous lineages previously wrongly attributed to Niall of the Nine Hostages or Genghis Khan. The known presence of R1b-V1636 up to modern Greeks would be in line with an ancient steppe expansion that we know will show up during the Neolithic, although it could also be a sign of a more recent migration from the Caucasus. The presence of a sister clade of R1b-L23, R1b-PF7562, among modern Balkan populations, may also be attributed to a pre-Yamna steppe expansion.

Y-DNA samples from Khvalynsk and neighbouring cultures. See full version here.

On SNP calls

I reckon that even informal reports on SNP calls, like any other analyses, should be offered in full: not only with a personal or automatic estimation of the result, but with a detailed explanation of the good, dubious, and bad calls, alternatives to that SNP estimation, and a motivated reasoning of why one branch should be preferred over others. Downloading a sample and giving an instruction using a free software tool is never enough, as it became crystal clear recently for the hilariously biased and flawed qpAdm reports on Dutch Bell Beakers as the ‘missing link’ between Corded Ware and Bell Beakers…

Another example I can recall is the report of a R1a-Z93 subclade in the R1a-M417 sample ca. 4000 BC from Alexandria, which seems rather unlikely, seeing how this subclade must have split and expanded explosively with R1a-Z645 to the east with eastern Corded Ware groups, i.e. 1,000 years later, just like Z282 lineages expanded mainly to the north-east. But then again, as with the Khvalynsk chieftain, I have only seen indirect reports of that supposed SNP (including Y26+!), so we should just stick with its officially reported R1a-M417 lineage. This upstream haplogroup was, in fact, repeated with Yleaf’s tentative estimates in Wang et al. (2019) supplementary materials…

The combination of inexperienced, biased, or simply careless design, analyses, and reports, including SNP calls and qpAdm analyses (whether in forums or publications), however well-intentioned (or not) they might be, are hindering a proper analysis of data, adding to the difficulties we already have due to the scarcity of samples, their limited coverage, and the lack of proper context.

Some people like to repeat ad nauseam that archaeology and/or linguistics are ‘not science’ whenever they don’t fit their beliefs and myths based on haplogroup and/or ancestry. But it’s becoming harder and harder to rely on certain genetic data, too, and on their infinite changing interpretations, much more than it is to rely on linguistic and archaeological research, including data, assessments, and discussions that are open for anyone to review…if one is truly interested in them.

Ancient Sardinia hints at Mesolithic spread of R1b-V88, and Western EEF-related expansion of Vasconic


New preprint Population history from the Neolithic to present on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia: An ancient DNA perspective, by Marcus et al. bioRxiv (2019)

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine, edited for clarity):

On the high frequency of R1b-V88

Our genome-wide data allowed us to assign Y haplogroups for 25 ancient Sardinian individuals. More than half of them consist of R1b-V88 (n=10) or I2-M223 (n=7).

Francalacci et al. (2013) identi fied three major Sardinia-specifi c founder clades based on present-day variation within the haplogroups I2-M26, G2-L91 and R1b-V88, and here we found each of those broader haplogroups in at least one ancient Sardinian individual. Two major present-day Sardinian haplogroups, R1b-M269 and E-M215, are absent.

Compared to other Neolithic and present-day European populations, the number of identi fied R1b-V88 carriers is relatively high.

(…)ancient Sardinian mtDNA haplotypes belong almost exclusively to macro-haplogroups HV (n = 16), JT (n = 17) and U (n = 9), a composition broadly similar to other European Neolithic populations.

Geographic and temporal distribution of R1b-V88 Y-haplotypes in ancient European samples. We plot the geographic position of all ancient samples inferred to carry R1b-V88 equivalent markers. Dates are given as years BCE (means of calibrated 2s radio-carbon dates). Multiple V88 individuals with similar geographic positions are vertically stacked. We additionally color-code the status of the R1b-V88 subclade R1b-V2197, which is found in most present-day African R1b-V88 carriers.

On the origin of a Vasconic-like Paleosardo with the Western EEF

(…) the Neolithic (and also later) ancient Sardinian individuals sit between early Neolithic Iberian and later Copper Age Iberian populations, roughly on an axis that differentiates WHG and EEF populations and embedded in a cluster that additionally includes Neolithic British individuals. This result is also evident in terms of absolute genetic differentiation, with low pairwise FST ~ 0.005 +- 0.002 between Neolithic Sardinian individuals and Neolithic western mainland European populations. Pairwise outgroup-f3 analysis shows a very similar pattern, with the highest values of f3 (i.e. most shared drift) being with Neolithic and Copper Age Iberia, gradually dropping off for temporally and geographically distant populations.

In explicit admixture models (using qpAdm, see Methods) the southern French Neolithic individuals (France-N) are the most consistent with being a single source for Neolithic Sardinia (p ~ 0:074 to reject the model of one population being the direct source of the other); followed by other populations associated with the western Mediterranean Neolithic Cardial Ware expansion.

Principal Components Analysis based on the Human Origins dataset. A: Projection of ancient individuals’ genotypes onto principal component axes de fined by modern Western Eurasians (gray labels).

Pervasive Western Hunter-Gatherer ancestry in Iberian/French/Sardinian population

Similar to western European Neolithic and central European Late Neolithic populations, ancient Sardinian individuals are shifted towards WHG individuals in the top two PCs relative to early Neolithic Anatolians Admixture analysis using qpAdm infers that ancient Sardinian individuals harbour HG ancestry (~ 17%) that is higher than early Neolithic mainland populations (including Iberia, ~ 8%), but lower than Copper Age Iberians (~ 25%) and about the same as Southern French Middle-Neolithic individuals (~ 21%).

Principal Components Analysis based on the Human Origins dataset. B: Zoom into the region most relevant for Sardinian individuals.

Continuity from Sardinia Neolithic through the Nuragic

We found several lines of evidence supporting genetic continuity from the Sardinian Neolithic into the Bronze Age and Nuragic times. Importantly, we observed low genetic differentiation between ancient Sardinian individuals from various time periods.

A qpAdm analysis, which is based on simultaneously testing f-statistics with a number of outgroups and adjusts for correlations, cannot reject a model of Neolithic Sardinian individuals being a direct predecessor of Nuragic Sardinian individuals (…) Our qpAdm analysis further shows that the WHG ancestry proportion, in a model of admixture with Neolithic Anatolia, remains stable at ~17% throughout three ancient time-periods.

Present-day genetic structure in Sardinia reanalyzed with aDNA. A: Scatter plot of the rst two principal components trained on 1577 present-day individuals with grand-parental ancestry from Sardinia. Each individual is labeled with a location if at least 3 of the 4 grandparents were born in the same geographical location (\small” three letter abbreviations); otherwise with \x” or if grand-parental ancestry is missing with \?”. We calculated median PC values for each Sardinian province (large abbreviations). We also projected each ancient Sardinian individual on to the top two PCs (gray points). B/C: We plot f-statistics that test for admixture of modern Sardinian individuals (grouped into provinces) when using Nuragic Sardinian individuals as one source population. Uncertainty ranges depict one standard error (calculated from block bootstrap). Karitiana are used in the f-statistic calculation as a proxy for ANE/Steppe ancestry (Patterson et al., 2012).

Steppe influx in Modern Sardinians

While contemporary Sardinian individuals show the highest affinity towards EEF-associated populations among all of the modern populations, they also display membership with other clusters (Fig. 5). In contrast to ancient Sardinian individuals, present-day Sardinian individuals carry a modest “Steppe-like” ancestry component (but generally less than continental present-day European populations), and an appreciable broadly “eastern Mediterranean” ancestry component (also inferred at a high fraction in other present-day Mediterranean populations, such as Sicily and Greece).


Iberia: East Bell Beakers spread Indo-European languages; Celts expanded later


New paper (behind paywall), The genomic history of the Iberian Peninsula over the past 8000 years, by Olalde et al. Science (2019).

NOTE. Access to article from Reich Lab: main paper and supplementary materials.


We assembled genome-wide data from 271 ancient Iberians, of whom 176 are from the largely unsampled period after 2000 BCE, thereby providing a high-resolution time transect of the Iberian Peninsula. We document high genetic substructure between northwestern and southeastern hunter-gatherers before the spread of farming. We reveal sporadic contacts between Iberia and North Africa by ~2500 BCE and, by ~2000 BCE, the replacement of 40% of Iberia’s ancestry and nearly 100% of its Y-chromosomes by people with Steppe ancestry. We show that, in the Iron Age, Steppe ancestry had spread not only into Indo-European–speaking regions but also into non-Indo-European–speaking ones, and we reveal that present-day Basques are best described as a typical Iron Age population without the admixture events that later affected the rest of Iberia. Additionally, we document how, beginning at least in the Roman period, the ancestry of the peninsula was transformed by gene flow from North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean.

Interesting excerpts:

From the Bronze Age (~2200–900 BCE), we increase the available dataset (6, 7, 17) from 7 to 60 individuals and show how ancestry from the Pontic-Caspian steppe (Steppe ancestry) appeared throughout Iberia in this period (Fig. 1, C and D), albeit with less impact in the south (table S13). The earliest evidence is in 14 individuals dated to ~2500–2000 BCE who coexisted with local people without Steppe ancestry (Fig. 2B). These groups lived in close proximity and admixed to form the Bronze Age population after 2000 BCE with ~40% ancestry from incoming groups (Fig. 2B and fig. S6).

Y-chromosome turnover was even more pronounced (Fig. 2B), as the lineages common in Copper Age Iberia (I2, G2, and H) were almost completely replaced by one lineage, R1b-M269. These patterns point to a higher contribution of incoming males than females, also supported by a lower proportion of nonlocal ancestry on the X-chromosome (table S14 and fig. S7), a paradigm that can be exemplified by a Bronze Age tomb from Castillejo del Bonete containing a male with Steppe ancestry and a female with ancestry similar to Copper Age Iberians.


For the Iron Age, we document a consistent trend of increased ancestry related to Northern and Central European populations with respect to the preceding Bronze Age (Figs. 1, C and D, and 2B). The increase was 10 to 19% (95% confidence intervals given here and in the percentages that follow) in 15 individuals along the Mediterranean coast where non-Indo-European Iberian languages were spoken; 11 to 31% in two individuals at the Tartessian site of La Angorrilla in the southwest with uncertain language attribution; and 28 to 43% in three individuals at La Hoya in the north where Indo-European Celtiberian languages were likely spoken (fig. S6 and tables S11 and S12).

This trend documents gene flow into Iberia during the Late Bronze Age or Early Iron Age, possibly associated with the introduction of the Urnfield tradition (18). Unlike in Central or Northern Europe, where Steppe ancestry likely marked the introduction of Indo-European languages (12), our results indicate that, in Iberia, increases in Steppe ancestry were not always accompanied by switches to Indo-European languages.

I think it is obvious they are extrapolating the traditional (not that well-known) linguistic picture of Iberia during the Iron Age, believing in continuity of that picture (especially non-Indo-European languages) during the Urnfield period and earlier.

What this data shows is, as expected, the arrival of Celtic languages in Iberia after Bell Beakers and, by extension, in the rest of western Europe. Somewhat surprisingly, this may have happened during the Urnfield period, and not during the La Tène period.

Also important are the precise subclades:

We thus detect three Bronze Age males who belonged to DF27 (154, 155), confirming its presence in Bronze Age Iberia. The other Iberian Bronze Age males could belong to DF27 as well, but the extremely low recovery rate of this SNP in our dataset prevented us to study its true distribution. All the Iberian Bronze Age males with overlapping sequences at R1b-L21 were negative for this mutation. Therefore, we can rule out Britain as a plausible proximate origin since contemporaneous British males are derived for the L21 subtype.

New open access paper Survival of Late Pleistocene Hunter-Gatherer Ancestry in the Iberian Peninsula, by Villalba-Mouco et al. Cell (2019):

BAL0051 could be assigned to haplogroup I1, while BAL003 carries the C1a1a haplogroup. To the limits of our typing resolution, EN/MN individuals CHA001, CHA003, ELT002 and ELT006 share haplogroup I2a1b, which was also reported for Loschbour [73] and Motala HG [13], and other LN and Chalcolithic individuals from Iberia [7, 9], as well as Neolithic Scotland, France, England [9], and Lithuania [14]. Both C1 and I1/ I2 are considered typical European HG lineages prior to the arrival of farming. Interestingly, CHA002 was assigned to haplogroup R1b-M343, which together with an EN individual from Cova de Els Trocs (R1b1a) confirms the presence of R1b in Western Europe prior to the expansion of steppe pastoralists that established a related male lineage in Bronze Age Europe [3, 6, 9, 13, 19]. The geographical vicinity and contemporaneity of these two sites led us to run genomic kinship analysis in order to rule out any first or second degree of relatedness. Early Neolithic individual FUC003 carries the Y haplogroup G2a2a1, commonly found in other EN males from Neolithic Anatolia [13], Starçevo, LBK Hungary [18], Impressa from Croatia and Serbia Neolithic [19] and Czech Neolithic [9], but also in MN Croatia [19] and Chalcolithic Iberia [9].

See also

The genetic and cultural barrier of the Pontic-Caspian steppe – forest-steppe ecotone


We know that the Caucasus Mountains formed a persistent prehistoric barrier to cultural and population movements. Nevertheless, an even more persistent frontier to population movements in Europe, especially since the Neolithic, is the Pontic-Caspian steppe – forest-steppe ecotone.

Like the Caucasus, this barrier could certainly be crossed, and peoples and cultures could permeate in both directions, but there have been no massive migrations through it. The main connection between both regions (steppe vs. forest-steppe/forest zone) was probably through its eastern part, through the Samara region in the Middle Volga.

The chances of population expansions crossing this natural barrier anywhere else seem quite limited, with a much less porous crossing region in the west, through the Dnieper-Dniester corridor.

A Persistent ecological and cultural frontier

It is very difficult to think about any culture that transgressed this persistent ecological and cultural frontier: many prehistoric and historical steppe pastoralists did appear eventually in the neighbouring forest-steppe areas during their expansions (e.g. Yamna, Scythians, or Turks), as did forest groups who permeated to the south (e.g. Comb Ware, GAC, or Abashevo), but their respective hold in foreign biomes was mostly temporary, because their cultures had to adapt to the new ecological environment. Most if not all groups originally from a different ecological niche eventually disappeared, subjected to renewed demographic pressure from neighbouring steppe or forest populations…

The Samara region in the Middle Volga may be pointed out as the true prehistoric link between forests and steppes (see David Anthony’s remarks), something reflected in its nature as a prehistoric sink in genetics. This strong forest – forest-steppe – steppe connection was seen in the Eurasian technocomplex, during the expansion of hunter-gatherer pottery, in the expansion of Abashevo peoples to the steppes (in one of the most striking cases of population admixture in the area), with Scythians (visible in the intense contacts with Ananyino), and with Turks (Volga Turks).

Simplified map of the distribution of steppes and forest-steppes (Pontic and Pannonian) and xeric grasslands in Eastern Central Europe (with adjoining East European ranges) with their regionalisation as used in the review (Northern—Pannonic—Pontic). Modified from Kajtoch et al. (2016).

Before the emergence of pastoralism, the cultural contacts of the Pontic region (i.e. forest-steppes) with the Baltic were intense. In fact, the connection of the north Pontic area with the Baltic through the Dnieper-Dniester corridor and the Podolian-Volhynian region is essential to understand the spread of peoples of post-Maglemosian and post-Swiderian cultures (to the south), hunter-gatherer pottery (to the north), TRB (to the south), Late Trypillian groups (north), GAC (south), or Comb Ware (south) (see here for Eneolithic movements), and finally steppe ancestry and R1a-Z645 with Corded Ware (north). After the complex interaction of TRB, Trypillia, GAC, and CWC during the expansion of late Repin, this traditional long-range connection is lost and only emerges sporadically, such as with the expansion of East Germanic tribes.

A barrier to steppe migrations into northern Europe

One may think that this barrier was more permeable, then, in the past. However, the frontier is between steppe and forest-steppe ecological niches, and this barrier evolved during prehistory due to climate changes. The problem is, before the drought that began ca. 4000 BC and increased until the Yamna expansion, the steppe territory in the north Pontic region was much smaller, merely a strip of coastal land, compared to its greater size ca. 3300 BC and later.

This – apart from the cultural and technological changes associated with nomadic pastoralism – justifies the traditional connection of the north Pontic forest-steppes to the north, broken precisely after the expansion of Khvalynsk, as the north Pontic area became gradually a steppe region. The strips of north Pontic and Azov steppes and Crimea seem to have had stronger connections to the Northern Caucasus and Northern Caspian steppes than with the neighbouring forest-steppe areas during the Upper Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic.

NOTE. We still don’t know the genetic nature of Mikhailovka or Ezero, steppe-related groups possibly derived from Novodanilovka and Suvorovo close to the Black Sea (which possibly include groups from the Pannonian plains), and how they compare to neighbouring typically forest-steppe cultures of the so-called late Sredni Stog groups, like Dereivka or partly Kvityana.

Typical migration routes through European steppes and forest-steppes. Red line represents the persistent cultural and genetic barrier, with the latest evolution in steppe region represented by the shift from dashed line to the north. Arrows show the most common population movements. Modified from Kajtoch et al. (2016).

Despite the Pontic-Caspian steppes and forest-steppes neighbouring each other for ca. 2,000 km, peoples from forested and steppe areas had an obvious advantage in their own regions, most likely due to the specialization of their subsistence economy. While this is visible already in Palaeolithic and Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, the arrival of the Neolithic package in the Pontic-Caspian region incremented the difference between groups, by spreading specialized animal domestication. The appearance of nomadic pastoralism adapted to the steppe, eventually including the use of horses and carts, made the cultural barrier based on the economic know-how even stronger.

Even though groups could still adapt and permeate a different territory (from steppe to forest-steppe/forest and vice-versa), this required an important cultural change, to the extent that it is eventually complicated to distinguish these groups from neighbouring ones (like north-west Pontic Mesolithic or Neolithic groups and their interaction with the steppes, Trypillia-Usatovo, Scythians-Thracians, etc.). In fact, this steppe – forest-steppe barrier is also seen to the east of the Urals, with the distinct expansion of Andronovo and Seima-Turbino/Andronovo-like horizons, which seem to represent completely different ethnolinguistic groups.

As a result of this cultural and genetic barrier, like that formed by the Northern Caucasus:

1) No steppe pastoralist culture (which after the emergence of Khvalynsk means almost invariably horse-riding, chariot-using nomadic herders who could easily pasture their cows in the huge grasslands without direct access to water) has ever been successful in spreading to the north or north-west into northern Europe, until the Mongols. No forest culture has ever been successful in expanding to the steppes, either (except for the infiltration of Abashevo into Sintashta-Potapovka).

2) Corded Ware was not an exception: like hunter-gatherer pottery before it (and like previous population movements of TRB, late Trypillia, GAC, Comb Ware or Lublin-Volhynia settlers) their movements between the north Pontic area and central Europe happened through forest-steppe ecological niches due to their adaptation to them. There is no reason to support a direct connection of CWC with true steppe cultures.

3) The so-called “Steppe ancestry” permeated the steppe – forest-steppe ecotone for hundreds of years during the 5th and early 4th millennium BC, due to the complex interaction of different groups, and probably to the aridization trend that expanded steppe (and probably forest-steppe) to the north. Language, culture, and paternal lineages did not cross that frontier, though.

EDIT (4 FEB 2019): Wang et al. is out in Nature Communications. They deleted the Yamna Hungary samples and related analyses, but it’s interesting to see where exactly they think the trajectory of admixture of Yamna with European MN cultures fits best. This path could also be inferred long ago from the steppe connections shown by the Yamna Hungary -> Bell Beaker evolution and by early Balkan samples:

Prehistoric individuals projected onto a PCA of 84 modern-day West Eurasian populations (open symbols). Dashed arrows indicate trajectories of admixture: EHG—CHG (petrol), Yamnaya—Central European MN (pink), Steppe—Caucasus (green), and Iran Neolithic—Anatolian Neolithic (brown). Modified from the original, a red circle has been added to the Yamna-Central European MN admixture.


Eastern pressure blade technology in west Scandinavia associated with WHG

New interesting preprint Ancient DNA from chewing gums connects material culture and genetics of Mesolithic hunter-gatherers in Scandinavia, by Kashuba et al. (2018).

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

Mitochondrial genomes from all three individuals belong to the U5a2d haplogroup. (…) The mitochondrial U5a2d haplogroup is consistent with earlier published results for ancient individuals from Scandinavia, U5a being the most common within SHG. Of the 16 Mesolithic individuals from Scandinavia published prior to our study, seven belong to the U5a haplogroup, nine share the U2 and U4 haplogroups

We divided the SHG group into two groups: SHGa and SHGb (ancient individuals found in contemporary Norway and Sweden, respectively). We based this on both the geographical distribution and the previous studies demonstrating the close relation of SHGa to EHG group and SHGb to WHG group. To further explore the demography within the SHG group, we compared the ancestry of BLE individuals within SHGa and SHGb groups. This comparison revealed a high relative shared drift between BLE individuals and the SHGb group

Admixture analysis showing the major mode for K=15. The figure represents 11 runs out of 20 replicates (Greedy algorithm ran with the Jaccard distance and a 0.97 similarity threshold)

The results from Huseby Kiev allow us to finally connect the SHG group with the eastern pressure blade technology. However, the higher genetic affinity between Huseby Kiev individuals and the WHG group challenges the earlier suggested tie between eastern technology and EHG genetics. Our results suggest either early cultural transmission, or a more complex course of events involving both non- and co-dependent cultural and genetic admixture.


Seeing how culture is indeed usually associated with the expansion of a certain population, especially at such an early date, I guess this similarity with WHG of incoming eastern peoples comes from an originally EHG population expanding into a mainly WHG area in the west (similar to what happens e.g. with Bell Beakers), or being replaced later by a WHG population which adopted the culture (similar to what happened with late Corded Ware populations in central-east Europe after the expansion of Bell Beakers).

Unlike later periods, it will always be difficult to judge such ancient population movements with few samples covering thousands of years… Probably specific Y-DNA haplogroups would help differentiate between both expanding populations from east and west.


The traditional multilingualism of Siberian populations


New paper (behind paywall) A case-study in historical sociolinguistics beyond Europe: Reconstructing patterns of multilingualism in a linguistic community in Siberia, by Khanina and Meyerhoff, Journal of Historical Sociolinguistics (2018) 4(2).

The Nganasans have been eastern neighbours of the Enets for at least several centuries, or even longer, as indicated in Figures 2 and 3.10 They often dwelled on the same grounds and had common households with the Enets. Nganasans and Enets could intermarry (Dolgikh 1962a), while the Nganasans did not marry representatives of any other ethnic groups. As a result, it was not unusual for Enets and Nganasans to live in the same tent and/or to have common relatives. Such close contact must clearly have favoured acquisition of Nganasan by Enets children and of Enets by Nganasan children from an early age.

The Nenets have been close neighbours of all the Enets groups more recently (Figures 2 and 3). In the seventeenth century, there were only warlike contacts between the Nenets and the Enets, while in the eighteenth century the Nenets started to live on the traditional Enets lands, on the western bank of the Yenisey river, with more peaceful interactions reported. (…) Since then the same situation of intermarriages and common households has been attested for these western Enets neighbours as with the Nganasans (Dolgikh 1962a), and this has also created conditions favouring early acquisition of both languages by children.

The Enets and neighbouring peoples in the middle of the seventeenth century; map by Yuri Koryakov (, adapted from Dolgikh (1960).

As for the Evenkis and the Selkups, the Enets had regular contact with these peoples (Figures 2 and 3), though they were not their close neighbours: in fact, geographically, the Selkups were not neighbours at all by the end of the nineteenth century. The Evenkis had always been direct south-eastern neighbours (…) Contacts with Selkups could be trade based, or they could simply be occasional encounters on adjacent lands. (…) [With Evenkis] some sporadic contacts were similar in nature to those with the Selkups, however many other contacts were war-like. Traditionally, the Enets considered the Evenkis to have a martial spirit, and the Evenkis were known as being accustomed to stealing Enets women. A number of stories in Dolgikh (1961) concern Evenkis stealing Enets women and Enets men going to Evenki lands to find and return them. It is clear, therefore, that if Evenki or Selkup were acquired by the Enets, this happened later in life, and this acquisition required particular conditions for it, i. e. it was not readily acquired through regular or harmonious contact (as with Nganasan).

In a pattern similar to the situation with Nganasan, in the second half of the twentieth century most Enets elders could speak Nenets (Vasil’jev 1963; Eugen Helimski p.c., the lead author’s fieldwork experience).

The Enets and neighbouring indigenous peoples: end of the nineteenth century – beginning of the twentieth century; map by Yuri Koryakov (, adapted from
Bruk (1961).

At the start of the period studied, in the 1850s, the Enets linguistic community could be characterized as multilingual in the following five languages: Enets, Nganasan, Nenets, Evenki, and Russian (Figure 4). The number of Enets individuals who were able to converse in each of the other four languages differed and generally was a property of the individuals who had regular social contact with speakers of the other four languages. (…) Note that in all cases of interethnic communication there could well be a lack of perfect proficiency in a language for which the multilingualism is ascribed to the Enets community or Enets individuals: as Braunmüller and Ferraresi (2003: 3) put it: “Nobody would ever have expected to know other languages ‘perfectly’ (whatever that may mean in detail). This expectation seems to be a quite modern idea when discussing issues of bilingualism or multilingualism in general”.

The complex interactions of Siberian populations during the 17th-19th centuries offer a reasonably good picture of the life in the centuries before these accounts, when Samoyedic peoples migrated northwards, and Palaeo-Siberian and Tungusic populations were gradually assimilated into their Uralic culture and language, through intermarriage and close contacts among naturally nomadic populations.

You can read more about the origin of Nganasans – and other modern Samoyedic-speaking peoples – as Palaeo-Siberian populations (hence probably speaking Palaeo-Siberian languages more or less related to each other) who adopted Samoyedic languages in Wikipedia, which offers a summary of Boris Dolgikh’s On the Origin of the Nganasans (1962). Dolgikh is one of the main sources of information for these Siberian groups, as is reflected in this paper, too.

Map of distribution of Samoyedic languages (red) in the XVII century (approximate; hatching) and in the end of XX century (continuous background). Notice late expansion to north and west into the typical territory where Nomadic peoples roamed. Modified from Wikipedia, with the Tuva region labelled (see a recent genetic study on the Tuva region, one of the most likely to be originally Samoyedic-speaking).

Why some geneticists are using Nganasans – in fact the latest Palaeo-Siberians to learn Samoyedic, already during historic times – as a model for the expansion of Uralic? I have never understood that. Among the many cases of circular reasoning based on modern populations that have been created since the start of population genomics, the use of Nganasans as a model of ‘true Uralians’ is probably the most clearly frontally opposed to what was well known in anthropology before geneticists started this new field.

If Kallio is right, most “eastern homeland” proposals are due to the interest of Russian nationalism, which is sadly quite likely to be influencing genetic research, too. It’s like letting Hindu nationalists influence publications on steppe-related migrations. As David Reich puts it in his book:

The tensest twenty-four hours of my scientific career came in October 2008, when my collaborator Nick Patterson and I traveled to Hyderabad to discuss these initial results with Singh and Thangaraj.

Our meeting on October 28 was challenging. Singh and Thangaraj seemed to be threatening to nix the whole project. Prior to the meeting, we had shown them a summary of our findings, which were that Indians today descend from a mixture of two highly divergent ancestral populations, one being “West Eurasians.” Singh and Thangaraj objected to this formulation because, they argued, it implied that West Eurasian people migrated en masse into India. They correctly pointed out that our data provided no direct evidence for this conclusion. They even reasoned that there could have been a migration in the other direction, of Indians to the Near East and Europe. (…) They also implied that the suggestion of a migration from West Eurasia would be politically explosive. They did not explicitly say this, but it had obvious overtones of the idea that migration from outside India had a transformative effect on the subcontinent.

If you add the nation-building myths in Eastern Europe (like the Russian Euro-Asian movements) to the now prevalent Indo-European—CWC idea, and a Siberian ancestry peaking in the Arctic, with little demographic or political relevance of modern Uralic-speaking peoples, you have clearly an explosive sociopolitical mix (based on a mythical Pan-Eurasian Indo-Slavonic) in the making…

Russia as the Euro-Asian Empire. Source: A. Dugin (1999), p. 415. From Eberhardt (2018).


“Steppe ancestry” step by step: Khvalynsk, Sredni Stog, Repin, Yamna, Corded Ware


Wang et al. (2018) is obviously a game changer in many aspects. I have already written about the upcoming Yamna Hungary samples, about the new Steppe_Eneolithic and Caucasus Eneolithic keystones, and about the upcoming Greece Neolithic samples with steppe ancestry.

An interesting aspect of the paper, hidden among so many relevant details, is a clearer picture of how the so-called Yamnaya or steppe ancestry evolved from Samara hunter-gatherers to Yamna nomadic pastoralists, and how this ancestry appeared among Proto-Corded Ware populations.

Image modified from Wang et al. (2018). Marked are in orange: equivalent Steppe_Maykop ADMIXTURE; in red, approximate limit of Anatolia_Neolithic ancestry found in Yamna populations; in blue, Corded Ware-related groups. “Modelling results for the Steppe and Caucasus cluster. Admixture proportions based on (temporally and geographically) distal and proximal models, showing additional Anatolian farmer-related ancestry in Steppe groups as well as additional gene flow from the south in some of the Steppe groups as well as the Caucasus groups.”

Please note: arrows of “ancestry movement” in the following PCAs do not necessarily represent physical population movements, or even ethnolinguistic change. To avoid misinterpretations, I have depicted arrows with Y-DNA haplogroup migrations to represent the most likely true ethnolinguistic movements. Admixture graphics shown are from Wang et al. (2018), and also (the K12) from Mathieson et al. (2018).

1. Samara to Early Khvalynsk

The so-called steppe ancestry was born during the Khvalynsk expansion through the steppes, probably through exogamy of expanding elite clans (eventually all R1b-M269 lineages) originally of Samara_HG ancestry. The nearest group to the ANE-like ghost population with which Samara hunter-gatherers admixed is represented by the Steppe_Eneolithic / Steppe_Maykop cluster (from the Northern Caucasus Piedmont).

Steppe_Eneolithic samples, of R1b1 lineages, are probably expanded Khvalynsk peoples, showing thus a proximate ancestry of an Early Eneolithic ghost population of the Northern Caucasus. Steppe_Maykop samples represent a later replacement of this Steppe_Eneolithic population – and/or a similar population with further contribution of ANE-like ancestry – in the area some 1,000 years later.


This is what Steppe_Maykop looks like, different from Steppe_Eneolithic:


NOTE. This admixture shows how different Steppe_Maykop is from Steppe_Eneolithic, but in the different supervised ADMIXTURE graphics below Maykop_Eneolithic is roughly equivalent to Eneolithic_Steppe (see orange arrow in ADMIXTURE graphic above). This is useful for a simplified analysis, but actual differences between Khvalynsk, Sredni Stog, Afanasevo, Yamna and Corded Ware are probably underestimated in the analyses below, and will become clearer in the future when more ancestral hunter-gatherer populations are added to the analysis.

2. Early Khvalynsk expansion

We have direct data of Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka-like populations thanks to Khvalynsk and Steppe_Eneolithic samples (although I’ve used the latter above to represent the ghost Caucasus population with which Samara_HG admixed).

We also have indirect data. First, there is the PCA with outliers:


Second, we have data from north Pontic Ukraine_Eneolithic samples (see next section).

Third, there is the continuity of late Repin / Afanasevo with Steppe_Eneolithic (see below).

3. Proto-Corded Ware expansion

It is unclear if R1a-M459 subclades were continuously in the steppe and resurged after the Khvalynsk expansion, or (the most likely option) they came from the forested region of the Upper Dnieper area, possibly from previous expansions there with hunter-gatherer pottery.

Supporting the latter is the millennia-long continuity of R1b-V88 and I2a2 subclades in the north Pontic Mesolithic, Neolithic, and Early Eneolithic Sredni Stog culture, until ca. 4500 BC (and even later, during the second half).

Only at the end of the Early Eneolithic with the disappearance of Novodanilovka (and beginning of the steppe ‘hiatus’ of Rassamakin) is R1a to be found in Ukraine again (after disappearing from the record some 2,000 years earlier), related to complex population movements in the north Pontic area.

NOTE. In the PCA, a tentative position of Novodanilovka closer to Anatolia_Neolithic / Dzudzuana ancestry is selected, based on the apparent cline formed by Ukraine_Eneolithic samples, and on the position and ancestry of Sredni Stog, Yamna, and Corded Ware later. A good alternative would be to place Novodanilovka still closer to the Balkan outliers (i.e. Suvorovo), and a source closer to EHG as the ancestry driven by the migration of R1a-M417.


The first sample with steppe ancestry appears only after 4250 BC in the forest-steppe, centuries after the samples with steppe ancestry from the Northern Caucasus and the Balkans, which points to exogamy of expanding R1a-M417 lineages with the remnants of the Novodanilovka population.


4. Repin / Early Yamna expansion

We don’t have direct data on early Repin settlers. But we do have a very close representative: Afanasevo, a population we know comes directly from the Repin/late Khvalynsk expansion ca. 3500/3300 BC (just before the emergence of Early Yamna), and which shows fully Steppe_Eneolithic-like ancestry.


Compared to this eastern Repin expansion that gave Afanasevo, the late Repin expansion to the west ca. 3300 BC that gave rise to the Yamna culture was one of colonization, evidenced by the admixture with north Pontic (Sredni Stog-like) populations, no doubt through exogamy:


This admixture is also found (in lesser proportion) in east Yamna groups, which supports the high mobility and exogamy practices among western and eastern Yamna clans, not only with locals:


5. Corded Ware

Corded Ware represents a quite homogeneous expansion of a late Sredni Stog population, compatible with the traditional location of Proto-Corded Ware peoples in the steppe-forest/forest zone of the Dnieper-Dniester region.


We don’t have a comparison with Ukraine_Eneolithic or Corded Ware samples in Wang et al. (2018), but we do have proximate sources for Abashevo, when compared to the Poltavka population (with which it admixed in the Volga-Ural steppes): Sintashta, Potapovka, Srubna (with further Abashevo contribution), and Andronovo:


The two CWC outliers from the Baltic show what I thought was an admixture with Yamna. However, given the previous mixture of Eneolithic_Steppe in north Pontic steppe-forest populations, this elevated “steppe ancestry” found in Baltic_LN (similar to west Yamna) seems rather an admixture of Baltic sub-Neolithic peoples with a north Pontic Eneolithic_Steppe-like population. Late Repin settlers also admixed with a similar population during its colonization of the north Pontic area, hence the Baltic_LN – west Yamna similarities.

NOTE. A direct admixture with west Yamna populations through exogamy by the ancestors of this Baltic population cannot be ruled out yet (without direct access to more samples), though, because of the contacts of Corded Ware with west Yamna settlers in the forest-steppe regions.


A similar case is found in the Yamna outlier from Mednikarovo south of the Danube. It would be absurd to think that Yamna from the Balkans comes from Corded Ware (or vice versa), just because the former is closer in the PCA to the latter than other Yamna samples. The same error is also found e.g. in the Corded Ware → Bell Beaker theory, because of their proximity in the PCA and their shared “steppe ancestry”. All those theories have been proven already wrong.

NOTE. A similar fallacy is found in potential Sintashta→Mycenaean connections, where we should distinguish statistically that result from an East/West Yamna + Balkans_BA admixture. In fact, genetic links of Mycenaeans with west Yamna settlers prove this (there are some related analyses in Anthrogenica, but the site is down at this moment). To try to relate these two populations (separated more than 1,000 years before Sintashta) is like comparing ancient populations to modern ones, without the intermediate samples to trace the real anthropological trail of what is found…Pure numbers and wishful thinking.


Yamna and Corded Ware show a similar “steppe ancestry” due to convergence. I have said so many times (see e.g. here). This was clear long ago, just by looking at the Y-chromosome bottlenecks that differentiate them – and Tomenable noticed this difference in ADMIXTURE from the supplementary materials in Mathieson et al. (2017), well before Wang et al. (2018).

This different stock stems from (1) completely different ancestral populations + (2) different, long-lasting Y-chromosome bottlenecks. Their similarities come from the two neighbouring cultures admixing with similar populations.

If all this does not mean anything, and each lab was going to support some pre-selected archaeological theories from the 1960s or the 1980s, coupled with outdated linguistic models no matter what – Anthony’s model + Ringe’s glottochronological tree of the early 2000s in the Reich Lab; and worse, Kristiansen’s CWC-IE + Germano-Slavonic models of the 1940s in the Copenhagen group – , I have to repeat my question again:

What’s (so much published) ancient DNA useful for, exactly?

See also