Scythians in Ukraine, Natufian and sub-Saharan ancestry in North Africa (ISBA 8, 21st Sep)


Interesting information from ISBA 8 sesions today, as seen on Twitter (see programme in PDF, and sessions from the 19th and the 20th september).

Official abstracts are listed first (emphasis mine), then reports and images and/or link to tweets. Here is the list for quick access:

Scythian population genetics and settlement patterns

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

The long-held archaeological view sees the Early Iron Age nomadic Scythians expanding west from their Altai region homeland across the Eurasian Steppe until they reached the Ponto-Caspian region north of the Black and Caspian Seas by around 2,900 BP1. However, the migration theory has not found support from ancient DNA evidence, and it is still unclear how much of the Scythian dominance in the Eurasian Steppe was due to movements of people and how much reflected cultural diffusion and elite dominance. We present new whole-genome results of 31 ancient Western and Eastern Scythians as well as samples pre- and postdating them that allow us to set the Scythians in a temporal context by comparing the Western Scythians to samples before and after within the Ponto-Caspian region. We detect no significant contribution of the Scythians to the Early Iron Age Ponto-Caspian gene pool, inferring instead a genetic continuity in the western Eurasian Steppe that persisted from at least 4,800–4,400 cal BP to 2,700–2,100 cal BP (based on our radiocarbon dated samples), i.e. from the Yamnaya through the Scythian period.

However, the transition from the Scythian to the Chernyakhov culture between 2,100 and 1,700 cal BP does mark a shift in the Ponto-Caspian genetic landscape, with various analyses showing that Chernyakhov culture samples share more drift and derived alleles with Bronze/Iron Age and modern Europeans, while the Scythians position outside modern European variation. Our results agree well with the Ostrogothic origins of the Chernyakhov culture and support the hypothesis that the Scythian dominance was cultural rather than achieved through population replacement.

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


Interesting to read in combination with yesterday’s re-evaluation of Scythian mobility and settlement patterns in the west (showing adaptation to the different regional cultures), The Steppe was Sown – multi-isotopic research changes our understandings of Scythian diet and mobility, by Ventresca Miller et al.

Nomadic pastoralists conventionally known as the Scythians occupied the Pontic steppe during the Iron Age, c. 700-200 BC, a period of unprecedented pan-regional interaction. Popular science accounts of the Scythians promote narratives of roving bands of nomadic warriors traversing the steppe from the Altai Mountains to the Black Sea coastline. The quantity and scale of mobility in the region is usually emphasized based on the wide distribution of material culture and the characterization of Iron Age subsistence economies in the Pontic steppe and forest-steppe as mobile pastoralism. Yet, there remains a lack of systematic, direct analysis of the mobility of individuals and their animals. Here, we present a multi-isotopic analysis of humans from Iron Age Scythian sites in Ukraine. Mobility and dietary intake were documented through strontium, carbon and oxygen isotope analyses of tooth enamel. Our results provide direct evidence for mobility among populations in the steppe and forest-steppe zones, demonstrating a range of localized mobility strategies. However, we found that very few individuals came from outside of the broader vicinity of each site, often staying within a 90 km radius. Dietary intake varied at the intrasite level and was based in agro-pastoralism.

While terrestrial protein did form a portion of the diet for some individuals, there were also high levels of a 13C-enriched food source among many individuals, which has been interpreted as millet consumption. Individuals exhibiting 87Sr/86Sr ratios that fell outside the local range were more likely to have lower rates of millet consumption than those that fell within the local range. This suggests that individuals moving to the site later in life had different economic pursuits and consumed less millet. There is also strong evidence that children and infants moved at the pan-regional scale. Contrary to the popular narrative, the majority of Scythians engaged in localized mobility as part of agricultural lifeways while pan-regional movements included family groups.

North-Africans show ancestry from the ancient Near East and sub-Saharan Africa

Pleistocene North Africans show dual genetic ancestry from the ancient Near East and sub-Saharan Africa, by van de Loosdrecht et al.

North Africa, connecting sub-Saharan Africa and Eurasia, is important for understanding human history. However, the genetic history of modern humans in this region is largely unknown before the introduction of agriculture. After the Last Glacial Maximum modern humans, associated with the Iberomaurusian culture, inhabited a wide area spanning from Morocco to Libya. The Iberomaurusian is part of the early Later Stone Age and characterized by a distinct microlithic bladelet technology, complex hunter-gathering and tooth evulsion.

Here we present genomic data from seven individuals, directly dated to ~15,000-year-ago, from Grotte des Pigeons, Taforalt in Morocco. Uni-parental marker analyses show mitochondrial haplogroup U6a for six individuals and M1b for one individual, and Y-chromosome haplogroup E-M78 (E1b1b1a1) for males. We find a strong genetic affinity of the Taforalt individuals with ancient Near Easterners, best represented by ~12,000 year old Levantine Natufians, that made the transition from complex hunter-gathering to more sedentary food production. This suggests that genetic connections between Africa and the Near East predate the introduction of agriculture in North Africa by several millennia. Notably, we do not find evidence for gene flow from Paleolithic Europeans into the ~15,000 year old North Africans as previously suggested based on archaeological similarities. Finally, the Taforalt individuals derive one third of their ancestry from sub-Saharan Africans, best approximated by a mixture of genetic components preserved in present-day West Africans (Yoruba, Mende) and Africans from Tanzania (Hadza). In contrast, modern North Africans have a much smaller sub-Saharan African component with no apparent link to Hadza. Our results provide the earliest direct evidence for genetic interactions between modern humans across Africa and Eurasia.

A detail of the cultures involved in these population movements:


So, most likely, Natufian-related ancestry – as sub-Saharan ancestry – not related to the Afroasiatic expansion.

NOTE. This now probably outdated already by the new preprint on Dzudzuana samples, from the Caucasus.

Impact of colonization in north-eastern Siberia

Exploring the genomic impact of colonization in north-eastern Siberia by Seguin-Orlando et al.

Yakutia is the coldest region in the northern hemisphere, with winter record temperatures below minus 70°C. The ability of Yakut people to adapt both culturally and biologically to extremely cold temperatures has been key to their subsistence. They are believed to descend from an ancestral population, which left its original homeland in the Lake Baykal area following the Mongol expansion between the 13th and 15th centuries AD. They originally developed a semi-nomadic lifestyle, based on horse and cattle breeding, providing transportation, primary clothing material, meat, and milk. The early colonization by Russians in the first half of the 17th century AD, and their further expansion, have massively impacted indigenous populations. It led not only to massive epidemiological outbreaks, but also to an important dietary shift increasingly relying on carbohydrate-rich resources, and a profound lifestyle transition with the gradual conversion from Shamanism to Christianity and the establishment of new marriage customs. Leveraging an exceptional archaeological collection of more than a hundred of bodies excavated by MAFSO (Mission Archéologique Française en Sibérie Orientale) over the last 15 years and naturally kept frozen by the extreme cold temperatures of Yakutia, we have started to characterize the (epi)genome of indigenous individuals who lived from the 16th to the 20th century AD. Current data include the genome sequence of approximately 50 individuals that lived prior to and after Russian contact, at a coverage from 2 to 40 fold. Combined with data from archaeology and physical anthropology, as well as microbial DNA preserved in the specimens, our unique dataset is aimed at assessing the biological consequences of the social and biological changes undergone by the Yakut people following their neolithisation by Russian colons.

Also interesting to read Balanovsky’s session, and a previous paper on the expansion of Yakuts.

Neolithic and Bronze Age Anatolia, Urals, Fennoscandia, Italy, and Hungary (ISBA 8, 20th Sep)


I will post information on ISBA 8 sesions today as I see them on Twitter (see programme in PDF, and sessions from yesterday).

Official abstracts are listed first (emphasis mine), then reports and images and/or link to tweets. Here is the list for quick access:

Russian colonization in Yakutia

Exploring the genomic impact of colonization in north-eastern Siberia, by Seguin-Orlando et al.

Yakutia is the coldest region in the northern hemisphere, with winter record temperatures below minus 70°C. The ability of Yakut people to adapt both culturally and biologically to extremely cold temperatures has been key to their subsistence. They are believed to descend from an ancestral population, which left its original homeland in the Lake Baykal area following the Mongol expansion between the 13th and 15th centuries AD. They originally developed a semi-nomadic lifestyle, based on horse and cattle breeding, providing transportation, primary clothing material, meat, and milk. The early colonization by Russians in the first half of the 17th century AD, and their further expansion, have massively impacted indigenous populations. It led not only to massive epidemiological outbreaks, but also to an important dietary shift increasingly relying on carbohydrate-rich resources, and a profound lifestyle transition with the gradual conversion from Shamanism to Christianity and the establishment of new marriage customs. Leveraging an exceptional archaeological collection of more than a hundred of bodies excavated by MAFSO (Mission Archéologique Française en Sibérie Orientale) over the last 15 years and naturally kept frozen by the extreme cold temperatures of Yakutia, we have started to characterize the (epi)genome of indigenous individuals who lived from the 16th to the 20th century AD. Current data include the genome sequence of approximately 50 individuals that lived prior to and after Russian contact, at a coverage from 2 to 40 fold. Combined with data from archaeology and physical anthropology, as well as microbial DNA preserved in the specimens, our unique dataset is aimed at assessing the biological consequences of the social and biological changes undergone by the Yakut people following their neolithisation by Russian colons.

NOTE: For another interesting study on Yakutian tribes, see Relationships between clans and genetic kin explain cultural similarities over vast distances.

Ancient DNA from a Medieval trading centre in Northern Finland

Using ancient DNA to identify the ancestry of individuals from a Medieval trading centre in Northern Finland, by Simoes et al.

Analyzing genomic information from archaeological human remains has proved to be a powerful approach to understand human history. For the archaeological site of Ii Hamina, ancient DNA can be used to infer the ancestries of individuals buried there. Situated approximately 30 km from Oulu, in Northern Finland, Ii Hamina was an important trade place since Medieval times. The historical context indicates that the site could have been a melting pot for different cultures and people of diversified genetic backgrounds. Archaeological and osteological evidence from different individuals suggest a rich diversity. For example, stable isotope analyses indicate that freshwater and marine fish was the dominant protein source for this population. However, one individual proved to be an outlier, with a diet containing relatively more terrestrial meat or vegetables. The variety of artefacts that was found associated with several human remains also points to potential differences in religious beliefs or social status. In this study, we aimed to investigate if such variation could be attributed to different genetic ancestries. Ten of the individuals buried in Ii Hamina’s churchyard, dating to between the 15th and 17th century AD, were screened for presence of authentic ancient DNA. We retrieved genome-wide data for six of the individuals and performed downstream analysis. Data authenticity was confirmed by DNA damage patterns and low estimates of mitochondrial contamination. The relatively recent age of these human remains allows for a direct comparison to modern populations. A combination of population genetics methods was undertaken to characterize their genetic structure, and identify potential familiar relationships. We found a high diversity of mitochondrial lineages at the site. In spite of the putatively distant origin of some of the artifacts, most individuals shared a higher affinity to the present-day Finnish or Late Settlement Finnish populations. Interestingly, different methods consistently suggested that the individual with outlier isotopic values had a different genetic origin, being more closely related to reindeer herding Saami. Here we show how data from different sources, such as stable isotopes, can be intersected with ancient DNA in order to get a more comprehensive understanding of the human past.

A closer look at the bottom left corner of the poster (the left columns are probably the new samples):


Plant resources processed in HG pottery from the Upper Volga

Multiple criteria for the detection of plant resources processed in hunter-gatherer pottery vessels from the Upper Volga, Russia, by Bondetti et al.

In Northern Eurasia, the Neolithic is marked by the adoption of pottery by hunter-gatherer communities. The degree to which this is related to wider social and lifestyle changes is subject to ongoing debate and the focus of a new research programme. The use and function of early pottery by pre-agricultural societies during the 7th-5th millennia BC is of central interest to this debate. Organic residue analysis provides important information about pottery use. This approach relies on the identification and isotopic characteristics of lipid biomarkers, absorbed into the pores of the ceramic or charred deposits adhering to pottery vessel surfaces, using a combined methodology, namely GC-MS, GC-c-IRMS and EA-IRMS. However, while animal products (e.g., marine, freshwater, ruminant, porcine) have the benefit of being lipid-rich and well-characterised at the molecular and isotopic level, the identification of plant resources still suffers from a lack of specific criteria for identification. In huntergatherer contexts this problem is exacerbated by the wide range of wild, foraged plant resources that may have been potentially exploited. Here we evaluate approaches for the characterisation of terrestrial plant food in pottery through the study of pottery assemblages from Zamostje 2 and Sakhtysh 2a, two hunter-gatherer settlements located in the Upper Volga region of Russia.

GC-MS analysis of the lipids, extracted from the ceramics and charred residues by acidified methanol, suggests that pottery use was primarily oriented towards terrestrial and aquatic animal products. However, while many of the Early Neolithic vessels contain lipids distinctive of freshwater resources, triterpenoids are also present in high abundance suggesting mixing with plant products. When considering the isotopic criteria, we suggest that plants were a major commodity processed in pottery at this time. This is supported by the microscopic identification of Viburnum (Viburnum Opulus L.) berries in the charred deposits on several vessels from Zamostje.

The study of Upper Volga pottery demonstrated the importance of using a multidisciplinary approach to determine the presence of plant resources in vessels. Furthermore, this informs the selection of samples, often subject to freshwater reservoir effects, for 14C dating.

Studies on hunter-gatherer pottery – appearing in eastern Europe before Middle Eastern Neolithic pottery – may be important to understand the arrival of R1a-M17 lineages to the region before ca. 7000 BC. Or not, right now it is not very clear what happened with R1b-P297 and R1a-M17, and with WHG—EHG—ANE ancestry

Bronze Age population dynamics and the rise of dairy pastoralism on the eastern Eurasian steppe

Bronze Age population dynamics and the rise of dairy pastoralism on the eastern Eurasian steppe, by Warinner et al.

Recent paleogenomic studies have shown that migrations of Western steppe herders (WSH), beginning in the Eneolithic (ca. 3300-2700 BCE), profoundly transformed the genes and cultures of Europe and Central Asia. Compared to Europe, the eastern extent of this WSH expansion is not well defined. Here we present genomic and proteomic data from 22 directly dated Bronze Age khirigsuur burials from Khövsgöl, Mongolia (ca. 1380-975 BCE). Only one individual showed evidence of WSH ancestry, despite the presence of WSH populations in the nearby Altai-Sayan region for more than a millennium. At the same time, LCMS/ MS analysis of dental calculus provides direct protein evidence of milk consumption from Western domesticated livestock in 7 of 9 individuals. Our results show that dairy pastoralism was adopted by Bronze Age Mongolians despite minimal genetic exchange with Western steppe herders.

Detail of the images:



Evolution of Steppe, Neolithic, and Siberian ancestry in Eurasia (ISBA 8, 19th Sep)


Some information is already available from ISBA 8 (see programme in PDF), thanks to the tweets from Alexander M. Kim.

Official abstracts are listed first (emphasis mine), then reports and images with link to Kim’s tweets. Here is the list for quick access:

Updates (17:00 CET):

Turkic and Hunnic expansions

Tracing the origin and expansion of the Turkic and Hunnic confederations, by Flegontov et al.

Turkic-speaking populations, now spread over a vast area in Asia, are highly heterogeneous genetically. The first confederation unequivocally attributed to them was established by the Göktürks in the 6th c. CE. Notwithstanding written resources from neighboring sedentary societies such as Chinese, Persian, Indian and Eastern Roman, earlier history of the Turkic speakers remains debatable, including their potential connections to the Xiongnu and Huns, which dominated the Eurasian steppe in the first half of the 1st millennium CE. To answer these questions, we co-analyzed newly generated human genome-wide data from Central Asia (the 1240K panel), spanning the period from ca. 3000 to 500 YBP, and the data published by de Barros Damgaard et al. (137 ancient human genomes from across the Eurasian steppes, Nature, 2018). Firstly, we generated a PCA projection to understand genetic affinities of ancient individuals with respect to present-day Tungusic, Mongolic, Turkic, Uralic, and Yeniseian-speaking groups. Secondly, we modeled hundreds of present-day and few ancient Turkic individuals using the qpAdm tool, testing various modern/ancient Siberian and ancient West Eurasian proxies for ancestry sources.

A majority of Turkic speakers in Central Asia, Siberia and further to the west share the same ancestry profile, being a mixture of Tungusic or Mongolic speakers and genetically West Eurasian populations of Central Asia in the early 1st millennium CE. The latter are themselves modelled as a mixture of Iron Age nomads (western Scythians or Sarmatians) and ancient Caucasians or Iranian farmers. For some Turkic groups in the Urals and the Altai regions and in the Volga basin, a different admixture model fits the data: the same West Eurasian source + Uralic- or Yeniseian-speaking Siberians. Thus, we have revealed an admixture cline between Scythians and the Iranian farmer genetic cluster, and two further clines connecting the former cline to distinct ancestry sources in Siberia. Interestingly, few Wusun-period individuals harbor substantial Uralic/Yeniseian-related Siberian ancestry, in contrast to preceding Scythians and later Turkic groups characterized by the Tungusic/Mongolic-related ancestry. It remains to be elucidated whether this genetic influx reflects contacts with the Xiongnu confederacy. We are currently assembling a collection of samples across the Eurasian steppe for a detailed genetic investigation of the Hunnic confederacies.

Three distinct East/West Eurasian clines across the continent with some interesting linguistic correlates, as earlier reported by Jeong et al. (2018). Alexander M. Kim.
Very important observation with implication of population turnover is that pre-Turkic Inner Eurasian populations’ Siberian ancestry appears predominantly “Uralic-Yeniseian” in contrast to later dominance of “Tungusic-Mongolic” sort (which does sporadically occur earlier). Alexander M. Kim

New interesting information on the gradual arrival of the “Uralic-Yeniseian” (Siberian) ancestry in eastern Europe with Iranian and Turkic-speaking peoples. We already knew that Siberian ancestry shows no original relationship with Uralic-speaking peoples, so to keep finding groups who expanded this ancestry eastwards in North Eurasia should be no surprise for anyone at this point.

Central Asia and Indo-Iranian

The session The Genomic Formation of South and Central Asia, by David Reich, on the recent paper by Narasimhan et al. (2018).

One important upside of dense genomic sampling at single localities – greater visibility of outliers and better constraints on particular incoming ancestries’ arrival times. Gonur Tepe as a great case study of this. Alexander M. Kim
– Tale of three clines, with clear indication that “Indus Periphery” samples drawn from an already-cosmopolitan and heterogeneous world of variable ASI & Iranian ancestry. (I know how some people like to pore over these pictures – so note red dots = just dummy data for illustration.)
– Some more certainty about primary window of steppe ancestry injection into S. Asia: 2000-1500 BC
Alexander M. Kim

British Isles

Ancient DNA and the peopling of the British Isles – pattern and process of the Neolithic transition, by Brace et al.

Over recent years, DNA projects on ancient humans have flourished and large genomic-scale datasets have been generated from across the globe. Here, the focus will be on the British Isles and applying aDNA to address the relative roles of migration, admixture and acculturation, with a specific focus on the transition from a Mesolithic hunter-gatherer society to the Neolithic and farming. Neolithic cultures first appear in Britain ca. 6000 years ago (kBP), a millennium after they appear in adjacent areas of northwestern continental Europe. However, in Britain, at the margins of the expansion the pattern and process of the British Neolithic transition remains unclear. To examine this we present genome-wide data from British Mesolithic and Neolithic individuals spanning the Neolithic transition. These data indicate population continuity through the British Mesolithic but discontinuity after the Neolithic transition, c.6000 BP. These results provide overwhelming support for agriculture being introduced to Britain primarily by incoming continental farmers, with surprisingly little evidence for local admixture. We find genetic affinity between British and Iberian Neolithic populations indicating that British Neolithic people derived much of their ancestry from Anatolian farmers who originally followed the Mediterranean route of dispersal and likely entered Britain from northwestern mainland Europe.

Millennium of lag between farming establishment in NW mainland Europe & British Isles. Only 25 Mesolithic human finds from Britain. Alexander M. Kim.
– Evidently no resurgence of hunter-gatherer ancestry across Neolithic
– Argument for at least two geographically distinct entries of Neolithic farmers
Alexander M. Kim.

MN Atlantic / Megalithic cultures

Genomics of Middle Neolithic farmers at the fringe of Europe, by Sánchez Quinto et al.

Agriculture emerged in the Fertile Crescent around 11,000 years before present (BP) and then spread, reaching central Europe some 7,500 years ago (ya.) and eventually Scandinavia by 6,000 ya. Recent paleogenomic studies have shown that the spread of agriculture from the Fertile Crescent into Europe was due mainly to a demic process. Such event reshaped the genetic makeup of European populations since incoming farmers displaced and admixed with local hunter-gatherers. The Middle Neolithic period in Europe is characterized by such interaction, and this is a time where a resurgence of hunter-gatherer ancestry has been documented. While most research has been focused on the genetic origin and admixture dynamics with hunter-gatherers of farmers from Central Europe, the Iberian Peninsula, and Anatolia, data from farmers at the North-Western edges of Europe remains scarce. Here, we investigate genetic data from the Middle Neolithic from Ireland, Scotland, and Scandinavia and compare it to genomic data from hunter-gatherers, Early and Middle Neolithic farmers across Europe. We note affinities between the British Isles and Iberia, confirming previous reports. However, we add on to this subject by suggesting a regional origin for the Iberian farmers that putatively migrated to the British Isles. Moreover, we note some indications of particular interactions between Middle Neolithic Farmers of the British Isles and Scandinavia. Finally, our data together with that of previous publications allow us to achieve a better understanding of the interactions between farmers and hunter-gatherers at the northwestern fringe of Europe.

-Novel genomic data from 21 individuals from 6 sites.
– “Megalithic” individuals not systematically diff. from geographically proximate “non-megalithic” burials
– Mild evidence for over-representation of males in some British Isles megalithic tombs
– Megalithic tombs in W & N Neolithic Europe may have link to kindred structures
Alexander M. Kim

Central European Bronze Age

Ancient genomes from the Lech Valley, Bavaria, suggest socially stratified households in the European Bronze Age, by Mittnik et al.

Archaeogenetic research has so far focused on supra-regional and long-term genetic developments in Central Europe, especially during the third millennium BC. However, detailed high-resolution studies of population dynamics in a microregional context can provide valuable insights into the social structure of prehistoric societies and the modes of cultural transition.

Here, we present the genomic analysis of 102 individuals from the Lech valley in southern Bavaria, Germany, which offers ideal conditions for such a study. Several burial sites containing rich archaeological material were directly dated to the second half of the 3rd and first half of the 2nd millennium BCE and were associated with the Final Neolithic Bell Beaker Complex and the Early and Middle Bronze Age. Strontium isotope data show that the inhabitants followed a strictly patrilocal residential system. We demonstrate the impact of the population movement that originated in the Pontic-Caspian steppe in the 3rd millennium BCE and subsequent local developments. Utilising relatedness inference methods developed for low-coverage modern DNA we reconstruct farmstead related pedigrees and find a strong association between relatedness and grave goods suggesting that social status is passed down within families. The co-presence of biologically related and unrelated individuals in every farmstead implies a socially stratified complex household in the Central European Bronze Age.

Diminishing steppe ancestry and resurgent Neolithic ancestry over time. Alexander M. Kim

Notice how the arrival of Bell Beakers, obviously derived from Yamna settlers in Hungary, and thus clearly identified as expanding North-West Indo-Europeans all over Europe, marks a decrease in steppe ancestry compared to Corded Ware groups, in a site quite close to the most likely East BBC homeland. Copenhagen’s steppe ancestry = Indo-European going down the toilet, step by step…


Russian Far East populations

Gene geography of the Russian Far East populations – faces, genome-wide profiles, and Y-chromosomes, by Balanovsky et al.

Russian Far East is not only a remote area of Eurasia but also a link of the chain of Pacific coast regions, spanning from East Asia to Americas, and many prehistoric migrations are known along this chain. The Russian Far East is populated by numerous indigenous groups, speaking Tungusic, Turkic, Chukotko-Kamchatka, Eskimo-Aleut, and isolated languages. This linguistic and geographic variation opens question about the patterns of genetic variation in the region, which was significantly undersampled and received minor attention in the genetic literature to date. To fill in this gap we sampled Aleuts, Evenks, Evens, Itelmens, Kamchadals, Koryaks, Nanais, Negidals, Nivkhs, Orochi, Udegeis, Ulchi, and Yakuts. We also collected the demographic information of local populations, took physical anthropological photos, and measured the skin color. The photos resulted in the “synthetic portraits” of many studied groups, visualizing the main features of their faces.


Impressive North Eurasian biobank including 30,500 individual samples with broad consent, some genealogical info, phenotypic data. Alexander M. Kim

Finland AD 5th-8th c.

Sadly, no information will be shared on the session A 1400-year transect of ancient DNA reveals recent genetic changes in the Finnish population, by Salmela et al. We will have to stick to the abstract:

Objectives: Our objective was to use aDNA to study the population history of Finland. For this aim, we sampled and sequenced 35 individuals from ten archaeological sites across southern Finland, representing a time transect from 5th to 18th century.

Methods: Following genomic DNA extraction and preparation of indexed libraries, the samples were enriched for 1,2 million genomewide SNPs using in-solution capture and sequenced on an Illumina HighSeq 4000 instrument. The sequence data were then compared to other ancient populations as well as modern Finns, their geographical neighbors and worldwide populations. Authenticity testing of the data as well as population history inference were based on standard computational methods for aDNA, such as principal component analysis and F statistics.

Results: Despite the relatively limited temporal depth of our sample set, we are able to see major genetic changes in the area, from the earliest sampled individuals – who closely resemble the present-day Saami population residing markedly further north – to the more recent ancient individuals who show increased affinity to the neighboring Circum-Baltic populations. Furthermore, the transition to the present-day population seems to involve yet another perturbation of the gene pool.

So, most likely then, in my opinion – although possibly Y-DNA will not be reported – Finns were in the Classical Antiquity period mostly R1a with secondary N1c in the Circum-Baltic region (similar to modern Estonians, as I wrote recently), while Saami were probably mostly a mix of R1a-Z282 and I1 in southern Finland. That’s what the first transition after the 5th c. probably reflects, the spread of Finns (with mainly N1c lineages) to the north, while the more recent transition shows probably the introduction of North Germanic ancestry (and thus also R1b-U106, R1a-Z284, and I1 lineages) in the west.

Dairying in ancient Mongolia

The History of Dairying in ancient Mongolia, by Wilkin et al.

The use of mass spectrometry based proteomics presents a novel method for investigating human dietary intake and subsistence strategies from archaeological materials. Studies of ancient proteins extracted from dental calculus, as well as other archaeological material, have robustly identified both animal and plant-based dietary components. Here we present a recent case study using shotgun proteomics to explore the range and diversity of dairying in the ancient eastern Eurasian steppe. Contemporary and prehistoric Mongolian populations are highly mobile and the ephemerality of temporarily occupied sites, combined with the severe wind deflation common across the steppes, means detecting evidence of subsistence can be challenging. To examine the time depth and geographic range of dairy use in Mongolia, proteins were extracted from ancient dental calculus from 32 individuals spanning burial sites across the country between the Neolithic and Mongol Empire. Our results provide direct evidence of early ruminant milk consumption across multiple time periods, as well as a dramatic increase in the consumption of horse milk in the late Bronze Age. These data provide evidence that dairy foods from multiple species were a key part of subsistence strategies in prehistoric Mongolia and add to our understanding of the importance of early pastoralism across the steppe.

The confirmation of the date 3000-2700 BC for dairying in the eastern steppe further supports what was already known thanks to archaeological remains, that the pastoralist subsistence economy was brought for the first time to the Altai region by expanding late Khvalynsk/Repin – Early Yamna pastoralists that gave rise to the Afanasevo culture.

Neolithic transition in Northeast Asia

Genomic insight into the Neolithic transition peopling of Northeast Asia, by C. Ning

East Asian representing a large geographic region where around one fifth of the world populations live, has been an interesting place for population genetic studies. In contrast to Western Eurasia, East Asia has so far received little attention despite agriculture here evolved differently from elsewhere around the globe. To date, only very limited genomic studies from East Asia had been published, the genetic history of East Asia is still largely unknown. In this study, we shotgun sequenced six hunter-gatherer individuals from Houtaomuga site in Jilin, Northeast China, dated from 12000 to 2300 BP and, 3 farming individuals from Banlashan site in Liaoning, Northeast China, dated around 5300 BP. We find a high level of genetic continuity within northeast Asia Amur River Basin as far back to 12000 BP, a region where populations are speaking Tungusic languages. We also find our Compared with Houtaomuga hunter-gatherers, the Neolithic farming population harbors a larger proportion of ancestry from Houtaomuga related hunter-gathers as well as genetic ancestry from central or perhaps southern China. Our finding further suggests that the introduction of farming technology into Northeast Asia was probably introduced through demic diffusion.

A detail of the reported haplogroups of the Houtaomuga site:


Y-DNA in Northeast Asia shows thus haplogroup N1b1 ~5000 BC, probably representative of the Baikal region, with a change to C2b-448del lineages before the Xiongnu period, which were later expanded by Mongols.

Y-chromosome mixture in the modern Corsican population shows different migration layers


Open access Prehistoric migrations through the Mediterranean basin shaped Corsican Y-chromosome diversity, by Di Cristofaro et al. PLOS One (2018).

Interesting excerpts:

This study included 321 samples from men throughout Corsica; samples from Provence and Tuscany were added to the cohort. All samples were typed for 92 Y-SNPs, and Y-STRs were also analyzed.

Haplogroup R represented approximately half of the lineages in both Corsican and Tuscan samples (respectively 51.8% and 45.3%) whereas it reached 90% in Provence. Sub-clade R1b1a1a2a1a2b-U152 predominated in North Corsica whereas R1b1a1a2a1a1-U106 was present in South Corsica. Both SNPs display clinal distributions of frequency variation in Europe, the U152 branch being most frequent in Switzerland, Italy, France and Western Poland. Calibrated branch lengths from whole Y chromosome sequencing [44,45] and ancient DNA studies [46] both indicated that R1a and R1b diversification began relatively recently, about 5 Kya, consistent with Bronze Age and Copper Age demographic expansion. TMRCA estimations are concordant with such expansion in Corsica.

Spatial frequency maps for haplogroups with frequencies above 3%, their Y-STR based phylogenetic networks in Corsican populations (Blue: North, Green: West, Orange: South, Black: Center and Purple: East) and their TMRCA (in years, +/- SE).

Haplogroup G reached 21.7% in Corsica and 13.3% in Tuscany. Sub-clade G2a2a1a2-L91 accounted for 11.3% of all haplogroups in Corsica yet was not present in Provence or in Tuscany. Thirty-four out of the 37 G2a2a1a2-L91 displayed a unique Y-STR profile, illustrated by the star-like profile of STR networks (Fig 1). G2a2a1a2-L91 and G2a2a-PF3147(xL91xM286) show their highest frequency in present day Sardinia and southern Corsica compared to low levels from Caucasus to Southern Europe, encompassing the Near and Middle East [21,47–50]. Ancient DNA results from Early and Middle Neolithic samples reported the presence of haplogroup G2a-P15 [51–53], consistent with gene flow from the Mediterranean region during the Neolithic transition. Td expansion time estimated by STR for P15-affiliated chromosomes was estimated to be 15,082+/-2217 years ago [49]. Ötzi, the 5,300-year-old Alpine mummy, was derived for the L91 SNP [21]. A genetic relationship between G haplogroups from Corsica and Sardinia is further supported by DYS19 duplication, reported in North Sardinia [14], and observed in the southern part of the Corsica in 9 out of 37 G2a2a1a2-L91 chromosomes and in 4 out of 5 G2a2a-PF3147(xL91xM286) chromosomes, 3 of which displayed an identical STR profile (S4 Table).

This lineage has a reported coalescent age estimated by whole sequencing in Sardinian samples of about 9,000 years ago. This could reflect common ancestors coming from the Caucasus and moving westward during the Neolithic period [48], whereas their continental counterparts would have been replaced by rapidly expanding populations associated with the Bronze Age [46,54,55]. Estimated TMRCA for L91 lineage in Corsica is 4529 +/- 853 years. G-L497 showed high frequencies in Corsica compared to Provence and Tuscany, and this haplogroup was common in Europe, but rare in Greece, Anatolia and the Middle East. Fifteen out of the 17 Corsican G2a2b2a1a1b-L497 displayed a unique Y-STR profile (S4 Table) with an estimated TMRCA of 6867 +/- 1294 years. Haplogroup G2a2b1-M406, associated with Impressed Ware Neolithic markers, along with J2a1-DYS445 = 6 and J2a1b1-M92 [22,49], had very low levels in Corsica. Conversely, G2a2b2a-P303was highly represented and seemed to be independent of the G2a2b1-M406 marker. The 7 G2a2b2a-P303(xL497xM527) Corsican chromosomes displayed a unique Y-STR profile (S4 Table).

First and second axes of the PCA based on 12 Y-chromosome haplogroup frequencies in 83 west Mediterranean populations.

Haplogroup J, mainly represented by J2a1b-M67(xM92), displayed intermediate frequencies in Corsica compared to Tuscany and Provence. J2a1b-M67(xM92) derived STR network analysis displayed a quite homogeneous profile across the island with an estimated TMRCA of 2381 +/- 449 years (Fig 1) and individuals displaying M67 were peripheral compared to Northwestern Italians (S2 Fig). The haplogroup J2a1-Page55(xM67xM530), characteristic of non-Greek Anatolia [22], was found in the north-west of Corsica. Haplogroup J2a1-DYS445 = 6 was found in the north-west with DYS391 = 10 repeats, and in the far south with DYS391 = 9 repeats, the former was associated with Anatolian Greek samples, whereas the second was found in central Anatolia [22]. The 7 J2b2a-M241 displayed a unique Y-STR profile (S4 Table), they were only detected in the Cap Corse region, this sub-haplogroup shows frequency peaks in both the southern Balkans and northern-central Italy [56] and is associated with expansion from the Near East to the Balkans during Neolithic period [57].

Haplogroup E, mainly represented by E1b1b1a1b1a-V13, displayed intermediate frequencies in Corsica compared to Tuscany and Provence. E1b1b1a1b1a-V13 was thought to have initiated a pan-Mediterranean expansion 7,000 years ago starting from the Balkans [52] and its dispersal to the northern shore of the Mediterranean basin is consistent with the Greek Anatolian expansion to the western Mediterranean [22], characteristic of the region surrounding Alaria, and consistent with the TMRCA estimated in Corsica for this haplogroup. A few E1b1a-V38 chromosomes are also observed in the same regions as V13.


Origin of horse domestication likely on the North Caspian steppes

Open access Late Quaternary horses in Eurasia in the face of climate and vegetation change, by Leonardi et al. Science Advances (2008) 4(7):eaar5589.

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

Here, we compiled an extensive continental-scale database, consisting of 3070 radiocarbon dates associated to horse paleontological and archeological finds across the whole of Eurasia, that has been analyzed in association with coarse-scale paleoclimatic reconstructions. We further collected the number of identified specimens (NISP) frequency data for horses versus other ungulates in 1120 archeological layers in Europe (…) This ma.ssive amount of data allowed us to track,with unprecedented details, how the geographic distribution of the species changed through time

Geographic range through time

For most analyses, the data have been divided into climatic periods: pre-LGM(older than 27 ka B.P.), LGM(27 to 18 ka B.P.), Late Glacial (18 to 11.7 ka B.P.), Preboreal (11.7 to 10.6 ka B.P.), Boreal (10.6 to 9.1 ka B.P.), Early Atlantic (9.1 to 7.5 ka B.P.), Late Atlantic (7.5 to 5.5 ka B.P.), and Recent (younger than 5.5 ka B.P.) (Fig. 1, A and B). The spatial and temporal distribution of horse remains compiled in our database reveals a strong imbalance in Eurasia (Fig. 1, A and B).

We found a common trend in both regions for a high number of occurrences at the end of the Pleistocene (with a decrease during the LGM, only visible in Europe), followed by a drastic reduction in the Early and Middle Holocene, and a relative increase toward more recent times. These included both the Early Atlantic in Europe, which started ~9.1 ka B.P., and the time range after 5.5 ka B.P. for Asia. The horse fossil record appears ubiquitous throughout Europe in the Late Pleistocene, while in the Early and Middle Holocene the finds are concentrated in central-western Europe and Iberia. From 7.5 ka B.P., the number of finds increases markedly, and the geographical distribution extends toward the east and southeast.

Horse occurrences through time. (A) Horse occurrences through time. Histograms showing the number of horse observations in Europe (left panel) and Asia (right panel) for each time bin (top) and for climatic period (bottom). Only time bins with more than 10 observations (black horizontal line) have been considered for the SDM analyses. From 22 ka B.P. backward (gray vertical line), time bins cover 2 ka following the available paleoclimatic reconstructions. The central map shows the boundaries considered while defining European and Asian regions, with the black line representing the Urals. The zoomed area shows the geographical resolution of the climatic reconstructions, with each pixel representing a grid cell. (B) Geographic distribution of horse occurrences. Maps showing horse occurrences for each climatic period in Europe (left) and Asia (right).

Different Asian and European niches

This analysis revealed that, in both continents, horses occupied only a portion of the climatic space available. The range covered by random locations shows that the paleoecological conditions present in Europe were only a subset of those found in Asia. However, European horses occupied a much wider climatic space than in Asia, with only limited overlap between the two ranges.

Horses conquered temperate environments from a European source

There is no evidence of climatic barriers between those two populations through time because the forecasts from Europe and Asia always overlap in central Eurasia, except 5 ka B.P. (figs. S3 and S4). An alternative explanation is the role of the Urals as a potential constraint for the dispersal of horses between Europe and north central Asia.

Climatic suitability. (A) Cumulative climatic suitability for the past 44 ka based on simulation on the European (left), Eurasian (middle), and Asian (right) data sets. To correct for sampling bias in the Eurasian data set, for each time slice, all estimates and projections for Eurasia are performed considering 100 random resampling of European occurrences in the same number as Asian occurrences. The darker the colors, themore stable the climatic suitability for horses (climatic niche = p-Hor) through time. (B) Projection of climatic suitability across Eurasia in different climatic periods based on occurrences in Europe (left), Eurasia (middle), and Asia (right). Because of the scarcity of data available for Asia, no models for the Holocene have been possible for both Asia and Eurasia, with the exception of 5 and 3 ka B.P. (both included in the “Recent” period).

Climatic and habitat association patterns for horses in Europe support increasing habitat fragmentation

The decrease of horse remains in Europe is not characterized by a geographic reduction in the overall extent of the area occupied by the species but in a drop of frequencies in a geographic extent that does not vary much between the Late Glacial and the Early Atlantic (Figs. 1B and 4B). This pattern is more likely to result from habitat fragmentation than from a geographic shift in the climatic range suitable for the species, as observed for many animals during the LGM (23).

In the whole period ranging from the Preboreal (11.7 to 10.6 ka B.P.) to the Late Atlantic (7.5 to 5.5 ka B.P.), the total amount of land space most and likely suitable to horses is wider than in the Late Glacial, and only between 8 to 7 ka ago the European range appears patchy and fragmented (Fig. 4C). When comparing each of four successive time bins during the Holocene (8, 7, 6, and 5 ka B.P., respectively) (Fig. 4E), the difference in successive p-Hor values in Europe shows that the suitability for the species in Iberia, northeastern France, Italy, the Balkans, and eastern Europe steadily increased, while in Central Europe strong differences can be observed between neighboring regions.

Analyses of the European data set and biomefrequency. (A) Distribution through time of the frequency of horse remains in Europe calculated as NISP of horses versus other ungulates. (B) Density of horse remains through time in Europe, calculated as NISP of horses versus other ungulates. The numbers at the bottom of each bar represent the number of observations falling in each class, from 0 to >5%. (C) Climatic suitability for horses in Europe between 10 and 3 ka B.P. (D) Climatic suitability per time period. Percentage of land cells in Europe with a value of suitability for horses (p-Hor) > 0.5 and p-Hor > 0.8. (E) Holocene climatic amelioration. Difference in p-Hor in Europe comparing five successive time bins during the Holocene: 9, 8, 7, 6, and 5 ka B.P. Eachmap shows the difference in themore recent distribution compared to the previous one. (F) Environmental reconstructions in themacro area surrounding horse finds in Europe (left) and Asia (right) per climatic period. The lighter the color, the less forested is the region. The numbers at the bottom of the bars show the number of occurrences in closed environments over all the observations. The dotted line represents a frequency of 0.5.

Taken at face value, this pattern would suggest that horses were not restricted to open environments but could equally well inhabit closed, forested environments, as previously suggested (18). However, as others recently emphasized (19), the faunal associations inHolocene sites from Europe suggest a different pattern. The PCAs based on faunal assemblages (figs. S1 and S2) separate on the second principal component sites characterized by ungulates associated to forested areas (red deer, wild boar, and roe deer) and all other animals, associated to semi-open and open environments, including horses for most records.

Together, the contrast between the reconstructed microscale and macroscale vegetable coverage in Europe, the increase of horses in mainly forested macroregions, and the spatial pattern of extinction suggest that, from the beginning of the Holocene, the suitable environment became more and more patchy, with open areas increasingly fragmented by forests, where wild populations of horses could have survived in isolation until one or several waves of arrivals of domestic horses, leading to either local admixture or a full replacement of the preexisting local populations.


Our data show that, up to 5.5 ka ago, horse finds do not show association with species characteristic of forested areas such as wild boar and roe deer. We infer that the open and semi-open habitats occupied by horses on a narrow geographic scale appear less and less frequent at a macroenvironmental scale, supporting the possibility of increasing fragmentation of open habitats. This event is also likely to have led to an intensification of genetic isolation for the remaining horse populations, a pattern that still needs to be tested on genomic data.

The suitability of both Iberia and eastern Europe appears constant throughout the entire post-LGM period, in line with these regions being hotspots of genetic diversity and, possibly, the refugia sources for the recolonization of the continent (11). While the Pontic-Caspian region appears not suitable for European horses around the time when horses where first domesticated some 5.5 ka ago (6), part of this region appears suitable for the Asian horses (with the Caspian Sea as the westernmost boundary). This may suggest that horse domestication started from a population background related to an Asian ancestry and that the further spread of the domesticated horses in Europe involved either adaptation to novel niches (possibly through selective breeding) or the application of domestication techniques to local horse populations pre-adapted to these environmental conditions. Testing this scenario will require mapping the genetic structure of the Eurasian horse population within the fifth to third millennium BCE.

Some remarks

Cultural-anthropological research and archaeological remains (see here), genetics (see here and here), and now also thorough palaeoclimatic and archaeological models point to the North Caspian region, settled by the Khvalynsk culture, as the most likely earliest origin of horse domestication. The paper also supports the favorable conditions of western Europe up to Iberia for the introduction of a horse-riding culture.

I intended to write a post about the myth of Corded Ware horse riders, but for the moment I haven’t found the time. Not that Corded Ware pastoralists didn’t have horses, or could not ride them: they were a highly mobile culture of pastoralists stemming from eastern Poland / western Ukraine, so they must have known horses, like many other European cultures of the late 4th / early 3rd millennium influenced by expanding Yamna settlers. But it just cannot be said to have formed an essential part of their culture, as it was for Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka, and especially Yamna and later East Bell Beaker, Sintashta, etc.

A mere look at these maps suffices to assess the limited role of the horse in north-eastern Europe, the only region where groups of late Corded Ware-derived cultures survived the expansion of Yamna, and especially East Bell Beakers after ca. 2500 BC, which transformed Western, Northern, and Central Europe, and even East Europe reaching the modern Baltic countries, Belarus, and Romania. Even Trzciniec was born out of the influence from expanding Bell Beakers into earlier Corded Ware territory, although the later (Iron Age) relevance of this culture was probably quite limited.

As you can imagine, without horses and horse symbolism, horse riding, carts, and intensive cattle-breeding (associated with Yamna and the broad, east-central European grasslands typical of steppe regions), there can be no Proto-Indo-European, whose reconstructed vocabulary is particulary rich in horse-related words, and whose reconstructed culture, society, and religion cannot be understood without the domesticated horse. In forest regions to the north-east and eastern Europe, there was apparently little space for horses, but plenty of room for other ungulates and thus hunting, and indeed Uralic languages

In the upcoming months we will see R1a-fans associating Proto-Indo-Europeans more and more with wool, and sheep, and corded ware, and forest regions, until the proposed homeland shifts to the Baltic and Finland, instead of dat boring horse-riding people of the steppes…No wait, it’s already happening.

NOTE. Also open access is the recent Horse Y chromosome assembly displays unique evolutionary features and putative stallion fertility genes, by Janečka et al. Nature Communications (2018).


Ancient genomes from North Africa evidence Neolithic migrations to the Maghreb

BioRxiv preprint now published (behind paywall) Ancient genomes from North Africa evidence prehistoric migrations to the Maghreb from both the Levant and Europe, by Fregel et al., PNAS (2018).

NOTE. I think one of the important changes in this version compared to the preprint is the addition of the recent Iberomaurusian samples.

Abstract (emphasis mine):

The extent to which prehistoric migrations of farmers influenced the genetic pool of western North Africans remains unclear. Archaeological evidence suggests that the Neolithization process may have happened through the adoption of innovations by local Epipaleolithic communities or by demic diffusion from the Eastern Mediterranean shores or Iberia. Here, we present an analysis of individuals’ genome sequences from Early and Late Neolithic sites in Morocco and from Early Neolithic individuals from southern Iberia. We show that Early Neolithic Moroccans (∼5,000 BCE) are similar to Later Stone Age individuals from the same region and possess an endemic element retained in present-day Maghrebi populations, confirming a long-term genetic continuity in the region. This scenario is consistent with Early Neolithic traditions in North Africa deriving from Epipaleolithic communities that adopted certain agricultural techniques from neighboring populations. Among Eurasian ancient populations, Early Neolithic Moroccans are distantly related to Levantine Natufian hunter-gatherers (∼9,000 BCE) and Pre-Pottery Neolithic farmers (∼6,500 BCE). Late Neolithic (∼3,000 BCE) Moroccans, in contrast, share an Iberian component, supporting theories of trans-Gibraltar gene flow and indicating that Neolithization of North Africa involved both the movement of ideas and people. Lastly, the southern Iberian Early Neolithic samples share the same genetic composition as the Cardial Mediterranean Neolithic culture that reached Iberia ∼5,500 BCE. The cultural and genetic similarities between Iberian and North African Neolithic traditions further reinforce the model of an Iberian migration into the Maghreb.

Ancestry inference in ancient samples from North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula. PCA analysis using the Human Origins panel (European, Middle Eastern, and North African populations) and LASER projection of aDNA samples.

Relevant excerpts:

FST and outgroup-f3 distances indicate a high similarity between IAM and Taforalt. As observed for IAM, most Taforalt sample ancestry derives from Epipaleolithic populations from the Levant. However, van de Loosdrecht et al. (17) also reported that one third of Taforalt ancestry was of sub-Saharan African origin. To confirm whether IAM individuals show a sub-Saharan African component, we calculated f4(chimpanzee, African population; Natufian, IAM) in such a way that a positive result for f4 would indicate that IAM is composed both of Levantine and African ancestries. Consistent with the results observed for Taforalt, f4 values are significantly positive for West African populations, with the highest value observed for Gambian and Mandenka (Fig. 3 and SI Appendix, Supplementary Note 10). Together, these results indicate the presence of the same ancestral components in ∼15,000-y old and ∼7,000-y-old populations from Morocco, strongly suggesting a temporal continuity between Later Stone Age and Early Neolithic populations in the Maghreb. However, it is important to take into account that the number of ancient genomes available for comparison is still low and future sampling can provide further refinement in the evolutionary history of North Africa.

Genetic analyses have revealed that the population history of modern North Africans is quite complex (11). Based on our aDNA analysis, we identify an Early Neolithic Moroccan component that is (i) restricted to North Africa in present-day populations (11); (ii) the sole ancestry in IAM samples; and (iii) similar to the one observed in Later Stone Age samples from Morocco (17). We conclude that this component, distantly related to that of Epipaleolithic communities from the Levant, represents the autochthonous Maghrebi ancestry associated with Berber populations. Our data suggests that human populations were isolated in the Maghreb since Upper Paleolithic times. Our hypothesis is in agreement with archaeological research pointing to the first stage of the Neolithic expansion in Morocco as the result of a local population that adopted some technological innovations, such as pottery production or farming, from neighboring areas.

By 3,000 BCE, a continuity in the Neolithic spread brought Mediterranean-like ancestry to the Maghreb, most likely from Iberia. Other archaeological remains, such as African elephant ivory and ostrich eggs found in Iberian sites, confirm the existence of contacts and exchange networks through both sides of the Gibraltar strait at this time. Our analyses strongly support that at least some of the European ancestry observed today in North Africa is related to prehistoric migrations, and local Berber populations were already admixed with Europeans before the Roman conquest. Furthermore, additional European/ Iberian ancestry could have reached the Maghreb after KEB people; this scenario is supported by the presence of Iberian-like Bell-Beaker pottery in more recent stratigraphic layers of IAM and KEB caves. Future paleogenomic efforts in North Africa will further disentangle the complex history of migrations that forged the ancestry of the admixed populations we observe today.

Ancestry inference in ancient samples from North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula. (B) ADMIXTURE analysis using the Human Origins dataset (European, Middle Eastern, and North African populations) for modern and ancient samples (K = 8). (D) Detail of ADMIXTURE analysis using the Human Origins dataset (European, Middle Eastern, North African, and sub-Saharan African populations) for modern and ancient samples, including Taforalt.

Also, from the main author’s Twitter account:

I just realized that the paragraph with information on data availability is missing! Sequence data in the European Nucleotide Archive (PRJEB22699). Consensus mtDNA sequences are available at the National Center of Biotechnology Information (Accession Numbers MF991431-MF991448).

I find it hard to believe that this genetic continuity from Upper Palaeolithic to Late Neolithic could be representative of an autochthonous development of Afroasiatic. An important population movement – likely more than one – must be found in ancient DNA influencing North-Central and North-East Africa, probably during the time of the Green Sahara corridor.

See here:

The Proto-Indo-European – Euskarian hypothesis


Another short communication by Juliette Blevins has just been posted, A single sibilant in Proto-Basque: *s, *Rs, *sT and the phonetic basis of the sibilant split:

Blevins (to appear) presents a new reconstruction of Proto-Basque, the mother of Basque and Aquitanian, based on standard methods in historical linguistics: the comparative method and the method of internal reconstruction. Where all previous reconstructions of Proto-Basque assume a contrast between two sibilants, *s, a voiceless apical sibilant, and *z a voiceless laminal sibilant (Martinet 1955; Michelena 1977; Lakarra 1995; Trask 1997), this proposal is unique in positing only a single sibilant *s. Under this account, all instances of Common Basque /z/ are derived from *s. More specifically, in syllable coda, *Rs > *Rz (R a sonorant) while in the syllable onset, *sT > *zT (T an oral stop). The true split of *s into /s/ vs. /z/ occurs when clusters like *Rz or *zT are further simplified to /z/.

In this talk, internal evidence for a single sibilant, *s, in Proto-Basque is presented, and sound changes underlying the sibilant split are examined within the context of Evolutionary Phonology (Blevins 2004, 2006, 2015, 2017). Similar sound changes are identified in other languages with similar cluster types (e.g. Kümmel 2007:232), and the phonetic basis of the sibilant split is informed by recent studies of sibilant retraction (e.g. Stevens and Harrington 2016; Stuart-Smith et al. 2018).

Blevins, already known for her previous work on the Basque language, was known internationally for her recent controversial proposal of a genetic relationship between Proto-Indo-European and Basque. Apparently, a book with her full model, Advances in Proto-Basque Reconstruction with evidence for the Proto-Indo-European-Euskarian Hypothesis, will be published by Routledge soon.

I was never convinced, not just about a genetic connection, but about the very possibility of discovering it if there was any, mainly because such a link would be quite old, and Basque is known to have been greatly influenced by surrounding IE prestige languages for millennia until it was first attested in the 16th century. Internal reconstruction can only avail a gross reconstruction of few aspects up to a certain point in time, probably not very far beyond the Pre-Roman period, and that only thanks to the available Aquitanian inscriptions.

There are indeed certain known migrations that could be linked with a pan-European population movement, the most likely one for this hypothesis being the Villabruna cluster (the Villabruna sample itself being of haplogroup R1b pre-P297), and especially the expansion of R1b-V88 lineages, found widespread in Europe from west to east, from Mesolithic Iberia to Khvalynsk.

This haplogroup is also found in Sardinia, which may be connected to the expansion of V88 subclades (which I have speculatively proposed could be linked to Afro-Asiatic) into Africa through Italy and the Green Sahara; although it could also be linked to a speculative Vasconic-Iberian – Palaeo-Sardo group.

Without knowing the exact Pre-Proto-Indo-European stage at which Blevins would place the Basque separation, it is difficult to know how it could fit within any macro-language proposal – and thus potential ancestral population expansion.

If you are interested in this hypothesis, I suggest Koch’s controversial paper of 2013 Is Basque an Indo-European Language? (PDF), appeared in JIES 41 (1 & 2)….And of course the many papers rejecting it in the same volume. You also have Forni’s writings supporting this association.

Seeing how many Basque nationalists (obviously obsessed with racial purity) are still rooting for an autochthonous Palaeolithic origin of R1b lineages (especially P312) linked with the Basque language and dat huge Vasconic Western Europe; and now, after Olalde & Mathieson 2018, how some are also suggesting a Neolithic link of R1b with the Neolithic expansion and Sardinians, for lack of further modern genetic differences with other Western Europeans… I wonder how a lot of people inclined to believe this nonsense today, and mentally linking Vasconic with haplogroup R1b, will be paradoxically necessarily tied precisely to this kind of macro-family proposals in the future.


David Reich on social inequality and Yamna expansion with few Y-DNA subclades

Interesting article from David Reich that I had missed, at Nautilus, Social Inequality Leaves a Genetic Mark.

It explores one of the main issues we are observing with ancient DNA, the greater reduction in Y-DNA lineages relative to mtDNA lineages, and its most likely explanation (which I discussed recently).

Excerpts interesting for the Indo-European question (emphasis mine):

Gimbutas’s reconstruction has been criticized as fantastical by her critics, and any attempt to paint a vivid picture of what a human culture was like before the period of written texts needs to be viewed with caution. Nevertheless, ancient DNA data has provided evidence that the Yamnaya were indeed a society in which power was concentrated among a small number of elite males. The Y chromosomes that the Yamnaya carried were nearly all of a few types, which shows that a limited number of males must have been extraordinarily successful in spreading their genes. In contrast, in their mitochondrial DNA, the Yamnaya had more diverse sequences.9 The descendants of the Yamnaya or their close relatives spread their Y chromosomes into Europe and India, and the demographic impact of this expansion was profound, as the Y-chromosome types they carried were absent in Europe and India before the Bronze Age but are predominant in both places today.13

This Yamnaya expansion also cannot have been entirely friendly, as is clear from the fact that the proportion of Y chromosomes of steppe origin in both western Europe14 and in India15 today is much larger than the proportion of the rest of the genome. This preponderance of male ancestry coming from the steppe implies that male descendants of the Yamnaya with political or social power were more successful at competing for local mates than men from the local groups. The most striking example I know is from Iberia in far southwestern Europe, where Yamnaya-derived ancestry arrived suddenly at the onset of the Bronze Age between 4,500 and 4,000 years ago. Daniel Bradley’s laboratory and my laboratory independently produced ancient DNA from individuals of this period.14 We find that in the first Iberians with Yamnaya-derived ancestry, the proportion of Yamnaya ancestry across the whole genome is almost never more than around 15 percent. However, around 90 percent of males who carry Yamnaya ancestry have a Y-chromosome type of steppe origin that was absent in Iberia prior to that time. It is clear that there were extraordinary hierarchies and imbalances in power at work in the Yamnaya expansions.

David Reich clearly doesn’t give a damn about how other people might react to his commentaries. That’s nice.

In any case, if anyone was still in denial, R1b-M269 expanded with Yamna (through the Bell Beaker expansion) into Iberia, hence yes, 90% of modern Basque male lineages have an origin in the steppe, like the R1b-DF27 sample recently found, and their common ancestor spoke Late Proto-Indo-European.

Findings like these, which should be taken as normal developments of research, are apparently still a trauma for many – like R1a-fans from India realizing most of their paternal ancestors came from the steppe, or its fans from Northern Europe understanding that their paternal ancestors probably spoke Uralic or a related language; or N1c-fans seeing how their paternal ancestors probably didn’t speak Uralic. It seems life isn’t fair to stupid simplistic ethnolinguistic ideas

Let’s see which Y-DNA haplogroups we find in West Yamna, to verify the latest migration model of Late PIE speakers of the Reich Lab (featured image).

Check out also the BBC News coverage of David Reich and Nick Patterson, the two most influential researchers of the moment in Human Ancestry: How ancient DNA is transforming our view of the past.