Archaeological origins of Early Proto-Indo-European in the Baltic during the Mesolithic

zaliznyak-old-european

New article by Leonid Zaliznyak, Mesolithic origins of the first Indo-European cultures in Europe according to the archaeological data (also available in Russian).

The article refers to the common Meso-Neolithic basis of Ukrainian ancient Indo-European cultures (Mariupol, Serednii Stih) and Central Europe (Funnel Beaker and Globular Amphorae cultures) of the fourth millennium BC. Archaeological materials show that the common cultural and genetic substrate of the earliest Indo-Europeans in Europe was forming from the sixth to the fourth millennia BC due to migration of the Western Baltic Mesolithic population to the east through Poland and Polissia to the Dnipro River middle region and further to the Siverskyi Donets River.

I already spoke about the view of the Russian school, and its interpretation of the origin of Proto-Indo-European (and potentially Indo-Uralic) in North-Eastern European Mesolithic. While the genetic interpretation seemed quite off in Klejn’s last article discussing Genetics, Zaliznyak improves the archaeological model to some extent.

This model is partially compatible with the expansion of R1b lineages and the Villabruna cluster with migrating peoples of post-Swiderian cultures into eastern Europe. However – as seems to be often the case with linguists of post-Soviet countries (maybe because of the greater influence of Nostraticists there) – proto-language dates are pushed further back in time than is warranted by usual guesstimates, and thus the model is way off as it approaches the Neolithic, and especially beyond that time.

As you can see, a Post-Swiderian expansion of (a language ancestral to) Proto-Indo-European (e.g. Pre-Indo-Uralic) is compatible with the Indo-European demic diffusion model. On the other hand, it is very difficult to assert anything about that period in terms of language change or evolution, because of scarce and obscured archaeological finds, and because of different admixture waves found in east Europe (in the Pontic-Caspian steppe, forest-steppe, and Forest Zone) during the Palaeolithic-Mesolithic – and even during the Mesolithic-Neolithic – transition.

It is therefore impossible today to ascertain if it was a community of western (R1b) or eastern (R1a) Eurasian lineages who spread Pre-Indo-Uralic; or which combination of WHG:ANE (if any) might have yielded EHG ancestry (and thus how a Pre-Indo-Uralic language might have developed from the influence of west and east Eurasian communities); or how later waves of ANE and CHG ancestry found in steppe populations (during the Neolithic) might have brought cultural change to the communities, or even if they accompanied the more recent R1a-M417 subclades (or haplogroup Q) found in the region…

zaliznyak-post-swiderian
Spreading of Post-Swiderian and Post-Krasnosillian sites in Mesolithic of Eastern Europe in the 8th millennia BC. See the article for an explanation of all details.

This Russian (or post-Soviet, or East European) school of thought, which is mainly based on their traditional archaeological models, tries to use new genetic data to obtain plausible archaeological-linguistic models of Indo-European expansion. Nevertheless, this improved model is likely to cause some quick dismissals and be made fun of by certain amateur geneticists.

It is curious, though, that some people are quick to judge archaeologists trying to fit new data to their traditional models – which seems like the right way of obtaining sound models for prehistoric human migrations -, but are on the other hand extremely confident about any new model based solely on genetics and their personal desires: very strong confirmation (and rejection) bias at play, indeed.

For example, how could Sredni Stog be Late Indo-European-speaking, if the best candidate for a Late Indo-European-speaking community (the Yamna culture) is almost fully unrelated? For some, simply because of the ‘Yamnaya ancestral component’.

In spite of many naysayers – amateur geneticists who hate archaeological models not fitting their dreams – , it seems that otherwise extremely disparate Indo-European schools of thought (like the German, American, and Spanish schools, the British, and even Leiden, the French, and to some extent the East European school) are converging in Linguistics, while in Archaeology Heyd’s model of Yamna migration (independent of the Corded Ware culture) is being accepted as mainstream with help from aDNA analysis – now also partially by Anthony, at last.

Only researchers of a single workgroup (very popular today, it seems) – tend to diverge from the general unifying trend, following mostly their interpretations of new genetic papers in a funny vicious circle, that is creating a growing bubble of misinformation with no substantive basis (apart from the controversial existence of a Kurgan people).

Let’s see how this ends up, if new genetic algorithms can truly revolutionise Archaeology and Linguistics, or if academic models will keep proving right over misinterpretations from recent genetic papers…

Featured image, from the article, “The settling of the early Indo-Europeans in the period from the 4th to the 2nd millennia BC”.

Related:

The Indus Valley Civilisation in genetics – the Harappan Rakhigarhi project

indus-valley-harappan-rakhigarhi

Razib Khan reports on his new website about an article by Tony Joseph, Who built the Indus Valley civilisation?, itself referring to the potential upcoming results of a genetic analysis project involving Rakhigarhi, the biggest Harappan site.

The possible scenarios based on potential sample results in terms of Y-DNA and mtDNA haplogroups seem to be generally well described, and I would bet – like Khan – for some kind of an East-West Eurasian connection. This is all pure speculation, though, and after all we only have to wait one month and see.

map-indus-valley
Detailed map of Indus Valley Civilization settlements. Key: ville actuelle – modern cities; site indusien – Indus Valley Civilization site; site majeur – major site (from Wikipedia, by Michel Danino)

Out of the potential models laid out by Joseph something struck me as plainly wrong. From the section about R1a and Vedic Aryans (emphasis mine):

In the ancient DNA from Rakhigarhi, scientists identify R1a, one of the hundreds of Y-DNA haplogroups (or male lineages that are passed on from fathers to sons). They also identify H2b — one of the hundreds of mt-DNA haplogroups (or female lineages that are passed on from mothers to daughters) — that has often been found in proximity to R1a.

There is no reason whatsoever to think that this would be the research finding, but if it is, it would cause a global convulsion in the fields of population genetics, history and linguistics. It would also cause great cheer among the advocates of the theory that says that the Indus Valley civilisation was Vedic Aryan.

(…)

And it goes on to postulate reasons why such a big fuss will be created about the potential finding of haplogroup R1a, and its implications for the Out-of-India Theory. A global convulsion, no less.

But, since when do genetic findings cause revolutions in Linguistics? Or even in Archaeology?

When I thought the identification of R1a – Indo-European could never reach a lower level of unscientific nonsense, based on circular reasoning, here it is, a worse example.

Not only are there people waiting desperately to see just one sample of an R1a subclade in Yamna to oversimplistically identify (yet again) Corded Ware with the Indo-European expansion; there are also people waiting to find just one sample in India or Central Asia to destroy the current models of steppe origins for Proto-Indo-European.

I guess this childish game is more or less based on the same premises that made some people believe that the concept of the ‘Yamnaya component’ destroyed traditional archaeological models.

R1a-thegeneticatlas
Modern haplogroup R1a distribution from The Genetic Atlas (PD), the kind of simplistic maps that generated the current misconceptions (or how to sow the wind among populations with an inferiority complex).

It seems that all new methods involving admixture analysis, PCA, and other statistical tools to study Human Ancestry are still irrelevant for most, and indeed that Archaeology and even Linguistics are at the service of the simplistic identification of ancient languages with modern haplogroup distributions.

We are reliving the 1990s in Genetics, and the 1930s in Archaeology and Linguistics all over again. This must be great news for companies that offer genetic analyses… I wonder if it is also good for Science, though.

The funny thing is, the same people responsible for the survival of these misconceptions, i.e. R1a – Indo-European fanboys, who constantly fan the flames of absurd genetic-genealogical and ethnolinguistic identification, are often the first to criticize models compatible with the Out-of-India Theory.

I really hope some R1a subclade is found among the samples, so that stupidity can reach the lowest possible level in discussions among amateur geneticists obsessed with haplogroup R1a’s role in the expansion of Indo-European speakers. Maybe then will the rest of us be able to overcome this renewed moronic supremacist trends hidden behind supposedly objective migration models.

For those interested in actual Indo-European migration models, the finding of early R1a subclades in central Asia (or India) – like the potential finding of R1a subclades in Yamnadoes change neither Archaeology nor Linguistics on the Indo-European question.

Genomics is merely helping these disciplines evolve, by supporting certain archaeological models of migration over others, but no revolution has been seen yet, and none is expected.

Each new genetic paper helps support the strongest archaeological models of steppe origins for Proto-Indo-European, and a Late Indo-European expansion compatible with current Linguistic reconstructions.

Featured image: From Wikipedia, Indus Valley Civilization, Mature Phase (2600-1900 BCE), by Jane McIntosh.

Related:

The new “Indo-European Corded Ware Theory” of David Anthony

allentoft-yamna-corded-ware

I recently wrote about the Indo-European Corded Ware Theory of Kristian Kristiansen and his workgroup, a sort of “Danish school”, whose aim is to prove a direct, long-lasting interaction between the North Pontic steppe and east European cultures during the Late Neolithic, which supposedly gave rise to a Late Indo-European-speaking Corded Ware culture. That is, a sort of renewed Kurgan model; or, more exactly, Kurgan models, since there is no single one preferred right now.

David Anthony had remained more or less in the background after the controversial assessment of the so-called Yamnaya ancestral component by recent genetic papers, which posited that there was a genetic flow in the Late Neolithic suggesting a migration model that could be hypothetically simplified to Yamna -> Corded Ware -> Bell Beaker.

With his previous publications, especially The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World (and its revisions), Anthony had set up an impressive revised steppe theory that overcame some of the errors of Gimbutas’ Kurgan model.

Whereas Indo-European-speaking Corded Ware cultures (CWC) were still featured prominently in his model, the different languages supposedly spoken by these groups were explained through multiple cultural diffusion events, and actual migrations from Yamna peoples were only described into Early Bronze Age cultures of the Balkans, and into the Afanasevo culture.

More recently, he has offered (in collaboration with his wife, Dorcas R. Brown) a tentative original connection Yamna -> Corded Ware in the Lesser Poland region, in their paper Molecular archaeology and Indo-European linguistics: Impressions from new data. It seemed to be based merely on recent genetic finds, and on the fact that Corded Ware remains appear to be oldest in that region, according to radiocarbon analysis.

Now he seems to be more and more supportive of this hypothesis in his new essay, Archaeology and Language: Why Archaeologists Care About the Indo-European Problem, in European Archaeology as Anthropology: Essays in Memory of Bernard Wailes ed by P.J. Crabtree and P. Bogucki (2017).

The chapter is interesting to read, as always. Nevertheless, it commits to previous errors – driven by the wrong interpretation of recent genetic papers -, and deepens thus this untenable archaeological-linguistic model of migrations from the steppe, in a weird vicious circle of wrong feedback between archaeologists and geneticists that diregards what archaeologists have been saying in the last decade.

Instead of waiting for the current storm of genetic papers (and their misinformation) to pass, and see what remains, Anthony is now supporting a different model than the one that made him popular, risking the good name he has earned in Archaeology and in popular science texts – in spite of initial setbacks due to the prevailing criticisms of Indo-European migration models.

Some excerpts (emphasis mine):

indo-european-corded-ware-bell-beaker
Central and Eastern Europe ca. 3000–2500 BCE showing the early Yamnaya culture area 3300–2700 BCE and the Yamnaya migration up the Danube Valley with related/offshoot Makó and Vučedol sites; also the distribution of Corded Ware sites in northern Europe; and site areas sampled for aDNA in Haak et al. (2015). The oldest Corded Ware radiocarbon dates are from southern and central Poland. The Yamnaya cemeteries in the Danube Valley are after Heyd (2011), the shaded Globular Amphorae site area is after Harrison and Heyd (2007); the Corded Ware and Globular Amphorae sites in southern Poland are after Machnik (1999); and the blue dots were all Corded Ware sites with radiocarbon dates as of Furholt (2003).

A Yamnaya migration from the steppes up the Danube valley as far as Hungary was already accepted by many archaeologists (Fig. 2.2). Hundreds of Yamnaya-type kurgans and dozens of cemeteries have been recognized by archaeologists in the lower Danube valley, in Bulgaria and Romania; and in the middle Danube valley, in eastern Hungary, with radiocarbon dates that began about 3000–2800 BCE and extended to about 2700–2600 BCE (Ecsedy 1979; Sherratt 1986; Boyadziev 1995; Harrison and Heyd 2007; Heyd 2012; Frînculeasa et al. 2015). The migration stream that created these intrusive cemeteries now can be seen to have continued from eastern Hungary across the Carpathians into southern Poland, where the earliest material traits of the Corded Ware horizon appeared (Furholt 2003). Corded Ware sites appeared in Denmark by 2800–2700 BCE, probably within 100–200 years after the first Yamnaya migrants entered the lower Danube valley. This surprisingly rapid migration introduced genetic traits such as the R1a and R1b Y-chromosome haplogroups and a substantial element of ANE (Ancient North Eurasian) ancestry that remain characteristic of most northern and western Europeans today.

(…)

The oldest radiocarbon dates from Corded Ware sites occur in southern Poland (upper Vistula) and north-central Poland (Kujavia), and this was seen as the region where the early networking of amphorae styles from Globular Amphorae and axe types from Scandinavia began. The genetic evidence shows a somewhat different picture: the Corded Ware people were largely immigrants whose ancestors came from the steppes (probably immediately from eastern Hungary), but they quickly adopted local material traits in amphorae and axe types that obscured their foreign origins. Middle Neolithic northern European populations composed of admixed WHG/EEF survived but were largely excluded from Corded Ware cemeteries, and from marriage into the Corded Ware population. Even centuries after the initial migration the Corded Ware population at Esperstedt, dated 2500–2400 BCE, still exhibited 70–80% Yamnaya genes, although individual variations in the extent of local admixture were apparent. Intermarriage with the surviving local population was more frequent during the ensuing Bell Beaker period. However, the resurgence is more visible in mtDNA than in Y-DNA (Szécsényi-Nagy et al. 2015), suggesting that men of the older EEF heritage were disadvantaged more than women.

(…)

Settlements were more permanent before the Corded Ware migration, and remained so among the Globular Amphorae people, who continued to create more localized site-and-cemetery groups in the same landscape with the more mobile immigrants. Afterward, during the Bell Beaker period, when local genetic ancestry rebounded and the population became more admixed, settlements again were more permanent. The Corded Ware culture introduced both a large, steppe-derived population and an unusually mobile form of pastoral economy that was a regional economic anomaly, but nevertheless survived in varying forms for centuries before the regional economic pattern was re-established. A steppe language certainly accompanied this demographic and economic shift. As we have seen above, there are good independent reasons (loans with Uralic and South Caucasian) to think that PIE was spoken in the steppes. It is likely that the steppe language introduced between 3000–2500 BCE was a late (post-Anatolian) form of PIE and survived and evolved into the later northern IE languages.

So, to sum up the new developments of Anthony’s preferred model:

  1. Abandonment of the multiple cultural diffusion models from Yamna into Corded Ware, i.e. Pre-Germanic (in the Usatovo culture) and Pre-Balto-Slavic (in the Middle Dnieper culture).
  2. The only potential Yamna connection with Corded Ware in Archaeology must come from Yamna migrants in the Carpathian basin. Therefore, R1a must come from Hungarian settlements.
  3. Corded Ware cultures from Northern Europe, from roughly 2800 BC, must come from Yamna settlers of the Carpathian basin.
  4. Esperstedt is a great example of Yamnaya genes, and of the mobility (and lack of intermarriage) of Corded Ware peoples centuries, after their migration from Yamna settlers in Hungary.

My answers (obvious for anyone reading this blog, or my demic diffusion model):

  1. It is a pitty that cultural diffusion models are abandoned. They were the last hope to keep these IE-CWC/Kurgan hypotheses alive.
  2. The Carpathian Basin is obviously the only potential early connection between Corded Ware and Yamna. But no single R1a has been found in western migrants, and admixture (including ancestral components and PCA) from Early Yamna, West Yamna, Balkan EBA, and early Bell Beaker samples from Hungary make it very unlikely that such a connection existed.
  3. Corded Ware peoples formed and began their migration much earlier than Yamna settlers arrived in the Carpathian Basin. Compare e.g. the Late Neolithic sample from Latvia (dated ca. 2885 BC) with steppe ancestry attributed to Corded Ware, or the early appearance of east European cultures like Fatyanovo-Balanovo or Abashevo. Also, known Yamna migration routes don’t include these proposed population expansions.
  4. I have already written about the Esperstedt outlier, and why its definition as an outlier should have been clearly made to avoid this kind of misinterpretations…
yamna-bell-beaker
Yamna – East Bell Beaker migration ca. 3000-2300 BC, according to Heyd (2007)

With each new genetic paper it is less and less likely that many individuals of Y-DNA haplogroup R1a, and especially R1a-Z645 (if any at all), will appear associated with Yamna, either in the Pontic-Caspian steppe or in western settlements (at least clearly belonging to Yamna, Balkan EBA, or Bell Beaker cultures), which will make the life of this new Indo-European Corded Ware Theory model still shorter than could be a priori expected for any archaeological model.

Also, it seems that the Bell Beaker preprint paper by Olalde et al. (2017) will be published in Nature soon with more samples, so a swift rejection of this theory may be near. On the other hand, the first paper on this model by Anthony and Brown (like the first paper of Kristiansen and his workgroup) appeared just before Olalde et al. (2017) and Mathieson et al. (2017), and yet all samples against their pet theories have not deterred any of them to continue supporting them…

I would say it is a shame that some geneticists are misleading good archaeologists into so many different wrong models, but I guess it is only fair to blame authors for what they write, not whom or what they trusted to write…

I think there is much more to be said about the interaction among Neolithic cultures from the steppe (viz. Sredni Stog and Khvalynsk), than about the Yamna migration, and Anthony was in a better position to judge this. Right now, it seems that other researchers like Rassamakin or Ivanova are taking the lead in the research of Neolithic cultures from the steppe, while Heyd or Prescott are taking the lead in the explanation of Yamna -> Bell Beaker migrations and their connection with the expansion of Late Indo-European languages.

#EDIT (December 18 2017): Just to be clear, Anthony’s new Indo-European Corded Ware Theory model in Archaeology would be compatible with the development and expansion of a North-West Indo-European dialect of Late Indo-European in Linguistics (which is my main source of disagreement with other recent models). In fact, Anthony’s new model could explain the different nature of Balto-Slavic, being adopted by peoples of mainly R1a-Z645 subclades of Lesser Poland – from Yamna migrants of R1b-L23 subclades – , and later influencing Pre-Germanic brought by Bell Beakers to Scandinavia, so in that sense it could offer some light to certain controversial linguistic aspects. See Corded Ware Substrate Theory for more on Germanic and Balto-Slavic similarities based on a common, intermediate substrate.

What I am criticising with this post is that the model seems to rely heavily (in fact, almost solely) on what some geneticists (and especially amateurs, fanboys of specific haplogroups and/or admixture components) are selling about the ‘Yamnaya component’ (and thus the assumption of a common migration of peoples of R1a-Z645 and R1b-L23 subclades), something which is – to say the least – highly controversial today. Instead of departing from Archaeology (his field) to try and make sense of what others are saying, he seems to be abandoning his own migration models and adopting one compatible with genetic studies of 2015-2016 made by laymen in Indo-European studies, who based their conclusions on their own new methods, applied to a few scattered samples. These new IECWT proponents are thus in turn giving still more reasons for these geneticists to support wrong assumptions in future studies, by relying on any of these new potential archaeological scenarios. And so on and on it goes…

Related:

Globular Amphora not linked to Pontic steppe migrants – more data against Kristiansen’s Kurgan model of Indo-European expansion

eneolithic-steppe-cultures

New open access article, Genome diversity in the Neolithic Globular Amphorae culture and the spread of Indo-European languages, by Tassi et al. (2017).

Abstract:

It is unclear whether Indo-European languages in Europe spread from the Pontic steppes in the late Neolithic, or from Anatolia in the Early Neolithic. Under the former hypothesis, people of the Globular Amphorae culture (GAC) would be descended from Eastern ancestors, likely representing the Yamnaya culture. However, nuclear (six individuals typed for 597 573 SNPs) and mitochondrial (11 complete sequences) DNA from the GAC appear closer to those of earlier Neolithic groups than to the DNA of all other populations related to the Pontic steppe migration. Explicit comparisons of alternative demographic models via approximate Bayesian computation confirmed this pattern. These results are not in contrast to Late Neolithic gene flow from the Pontic steppes into Central Europe. However, they add nuance to this model, showing that the eastern affinities of the GAC in the archaeological record reflect cultural influences from other groups from the East, rather than the movement of people.

globular-amphora-pca-admixture
(a) Principal component analysis on genomic diversity in ancient and modern individuals. (b) K = 3,4 ADMIXTURE analysis based only on ancient variation. (a) Principal component analysis of 777 modern West Eurasian samples with 199 ancient samples. Only transversions considered in the PCA (to avoid confounding effects of post-mortem damage). We represented modern individuals as grey dots, and used coloured and labelled symbols to represent the ancient individuals. (b) Admixture plots at K = 3 and K = 4 of the analysis conducted only considering the ancient individuals. The full plot is shown in electronic supplementary material, figure S7. The ancient populations are sorted by a temporal scale from Pleistocene to Iron Age. The GAC samples of this study are displayed in the box on the right.

Excerpt, from the discussion:

In its classical formulation, the Kurgan hypothesis, i.e. a late Neolithic spread of proto-Indo-European languages from the Pontic steppes, regards the GAC people as largely descended from Late Neolithic ancestors from the East, most likely representing the Yamna culture; these populations then continued their Westward movement, giving rise to the later Corded Ware and Bell Beaker cultures. Gimbutas [23] suggested that the spread of Indo-European languages involved conflict, with eastern populations spreading their languages and customs to previously established European groups, which implies some degree of demographic change in the areas affected by the process. The genomic variation observed in GAC individuals from Kierzkowo, Poland, does not seem to agree with this view. Indeed, at the nuclear level, the GAC people show minor genetic affinities with the other populations related with the Kurgan Hypothesis, including the Yamna. On the contrary, they are similar to Early-Middle Neolithic populations, even geographically distant ones, from Iberia or Sweden. As already found for other Late Neolithic populations [18], in the GAC people’s genome there is a component related to those of much earlier hunting-gathering communities, probably a sign of admixture with them. At the nuclear level, there is a recognizable genealogical continuity from Yamna to Corded Ware. However, the view that the GAC people represented an intermediate phase in this large-scale migration finds no support in bi-dimensional representations of genome diversity (PCA and MDS), ADMIXTURE graphs, or in the set of estimated f3-statistics.

globular-amphora-hunter-gatherer-farmer-yamnaya
Scheme summarizing the five alternative models compared via ABC random forest. We generated by coalescent simulation mtDNA sequences under five models, differing as to the number of migration events considered. The coloured lines represent the ancient samples included in the analysis, namely Unetice (yellow line), Bell Beaker (purple line), Corded Ware (green line) and Globular Amphorae (red line) from Central Europe, Yamnaya (light blue line) and Srubnaya (brown line) from Eastern Europe. The arrows refer to the three waves of migration tested. Model NOMIG was the simplest one, in which the six populations did not have any genetic exchanges; models MIG1, MIG2 and MIG1, 2 differed from NOMIG in that they included the migration events number 1, 2 (from Eastern to Central Europe, respectively before and after the onset of the GAC), or both. Model MIG2, 3 represents a modification of MIG2 model also including a back migration from Central to Eastern Europe after the development of the Corded Ware culture.

Together with Globular Amphora culture samples from Mathieson et al. (2017), this suggests that Kristiansen’s Indo-European Corded Ware Theory is wrong, even in its latest revised models of 2017.

gimbutas-kurgan-indo-european
The background shading indicates the tree migratory waves proposed by Marija Gimbutas, and personally
checked by her in 1995. The symbols refer to the ancient populations considered in the ABC analysis

On the other hand, the article’s genetic finds have some interesting connections in terms of mtDNA phylogeography, but without a proper archaeological model it is difficult to explain them.

mtdna-yamnaya-gac-corded-ware-bell-beaker
Haplogroup frequencies were obtained for Early Neolithic (EN), Middle Neolithic (MN), Chalcolithic (CA), and Late Neolithic (LN). The color assigned to each haplogroup is represented on the lower right part of each plot. Haplogroup frequencies were plotted geographically using QGIS v2.14.

Text and images from the article under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.

Discovered first via Bernard Sécher’s blog.

See also:

Indo-European demic diffusion model, 3rd edition

pca-yamna-corded-ware

I have just uploaded the working draft of the third version of the Indo-European demic diffusion model. Unlike the previous two versions, which were published as essays (fully developed papers), this new version adds more information on human admixture, and probably needs important corrections before a definitive edition can be published.

The third version is available right now on ResearchGate and Academia.edu. I will post the PDF at Academia Prisca, as soon as possible:

pca-map-yamna-corded-ware-bell-beaker
Map overlaid by PCA including Yamna, Corded Ware, Bell Beaker, and other samples

Feel free to comment on the paper here, or (preferably) in our forum.

A working version (needing some corrections) divided by sections, illustrated with up-to-date, high resolution maps, can be found (as always) at the official collaborative Wiki website indo-european.info.

Marija Gimbutas and the expansion of the “Kurgan people” based on tumulus-building cultures

An interesting article that I keep stumbling upon, The tumulus in European prehistory: covering the body, housing the soul, by Anthony Harding (2011):

Finally, in Kurgan IV she saw “continuous waves of expansion or raids[that] touched all of northern Europe, the Aegean area, and the east Mediterranean areas possibly as far south as Egypt”. This was the period of the Catacomb Graves, but also the Early Bronze Age rock-cut tombs of the Mediterranean, Vučedol, Bell Beakers in Hungary, the Single Grave culture of the Nordic region. The Kurgan Culture reached Ireland, she remarked in a paper of 1978 “as early as 3500 B.C.” – by which she presumably referred to megalithic mounds covering passage tombs.

(…)

According to Gimbutas, the “Kurgan people” are evidenced by single graves in deep shafts, often in wooden chests (coffins) or stone cists marked by low earth or stone barrows; the dead lay on their backs with legs contracted; they were buried with flint points or arrowheads, figurines depicting horses’ heads, boars tusk ornaments and animal tooth pendants. Human sacrifice was allegedly performed during the funeral ceremonies,and sometimes ritual graves of cattle and other animals were added. This is said to contrast with what Gimbutas called the culture of Old Europe (i.e. the earlier Neolithic of the Balkans), who “betray a concern for the deification of the dead and the construction of monumental works of architecture visible in mortuary houses,grave markings, tumuli, stone rings or stone stelae, and in the large quantity of weapons found in the graves”.

(…)

single-graves-kurgan
The varying burial traditions of the Early Bronze Age in Central and Eastern Europe (Häusler 1977, fig. 1). Circles: tumuli with the “mound edge principle”. Semicircles: tumuli. Stippling: cremation; other symbols represent inhumation graves, divided according to orientation and sex

Can we really associate the practice of mound-building with a specific people, and assume that the spread of the practice indicates the spread of the people? That is one of the “big questions” of European archaeology, and one which a number of papers in the volume address. My own position is that the practice of tumulus building seems so widespread in time and space that it seems hard to associate it with one particular ethnic group – though I can understand how, in the melting pot that was Early Europe, people could believe this to be the case. There are, however, major arguments against the idea, on archaeological grounds alone – which Häusler’s map indicates very clearly. Burial mode and grave form in Copper and Bronze Age Europe was far too variable for any such simplistic correlation. In any case, what are we to make of the appearance of tumuli in such far-flung places as Japan or North America, where tumuli are very common? It was always unlikely that the megalithic tombs of western Europe were to be associated with movements from the steppe 1000 or 2000 years earlier, and nothing that has happened since Gimbutas was writing has changed that situation

Research has corrected Gimbutas’ opinion on the time of spread of Indo-Europeans, on the role of the horse (see e.g. Anthony 2007) in their expansion, and the unrelatedness of the two main central European Chalcolithic archaeological packages: the Corded Ware package that expanded from the Balkans into north-eastern Europe, and the Yamna package (together with the proto-Beaker package) that evolved into the East Bell Beaker culture.

yamna-migration
Extent of migration of the “Yamna package“, from Heyd 2007

However, the shadow of the “Kurgan people” remains in the outdated body of innumerable writings. It was revived with the first attempts at disentangling Europe’s genetic past (based on the role of R1a in expanding Proto-Indo-European).

Particularly strong in that sense is the model set forth by Kristiansen, who was nevertheless aware since his first proposal of the differences between the ‘Kurgan people’ of the steppe and those of the Corded Ware culture, selecting thus an alternative framework of long-lasting human and economic interactions between the “Kurgan people”, the Globular Amphora and Baden cultures with an origin of the culture in the natural region formed between the Upper Dnieper and Vistula rivers.

This idea is continued today, and has been recently linked with the Agricultural Substrate Hypothesis. Originally proposed by Kroonen and linked to the spread of Middle Eastern “R1b1b2” with agriculture, it is now (in Kristiansen et al. 2017 and more recently in Iversen and Kroonen 2017) linked with the expansion of the Corded Ware culture, thus proposing that Pre-Germanic is a branch separated some 6,000 years ago from other branches…

kurgans-corded-ware
Kristiansen’s (1989) schematic presentation of basic principles of burial positions in the Late Neolithic / EBA cultures in northern Eurasia, following to some extent Häusler (1983)

The linguistic proposal is obviously compatible with mainstream archaeological models – which suggest the introduction of Pre-Germanic in Scandinavia with Bell Beaker peoples -, but since the linguistic proposal alone would probably not make such a fuss without the accompanying genetics, I guess this is the right way to publicise it. I doubt linguists really care about genetics, and I really doubt amateur geneticists will read the linguistic proposal, but who cares.

Kristiansen’s traditional model is obviously in contrast with contemporaneous anthropological writings by Anthony, Heyd, or (Gimbutas’ pupil) Mallory, but is nevertheless becoming a resilient tradition in the interpretation of results in studies of human ancestry in Europe.

I doubt that Gimbutas, who was not very fond of tradition, would be proud of this kind of legacy, though…

Featured image: “European dialect” expansion of Proto-Indo-European according to The Indo-Europeans: Archeological Problems, Gimbutas (1963). Observe the similarities of the western European expansion to the recently proposed expansion of R1b lineages with western Yamna and Bell Beaker.

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