Scytho-Siberians of Aldy-Bel and Sagly, of haplogroup R1a-Z93, Q1b-L54, and N


Recently, a paper described Eastern Scythian groups as “Uralic-Altaic” just because of the appearance of haplogroup N in two Pazyryk samples.

This simplistic identification is contested by the varied haplogroups found in early Altaic groups, by the early link of Cimmerians with the expansion of hg. N and Q, by the link of N1c-L392 in north-eastern Europe with Palaeo-Laplandic, and now (paradoxically) by the clear link between early Mongolic expansion and N1c-L392 subclades.

A new paper (behind paywall) offers insight into the prevalent presence of R1a-Z93 among eastern Scytho-Siberian groups (most likely including Samoyedic speakers in the forest-steppes), and a new hint to the westward expansion of haplogroups Q and N (probably coupled with the so-called “Siberian ancestry”) from the east with different groups of Iron Age steppe nomads:

Genetic kinship and admixture in Iron Age Scytho-Siberians, by Mary et al. Human Genetics (2019).

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

From an archeological and historical point of view, the term “Scythians” refers to Iron Age nomadic or seminomadic populations characterized by the presence of three types of artifacts in male burials: typical weapons, specific horse harnesses and items decorated in the so-called “Animal Style”. This complex of goods has been termed the “Scythian triad” and was considered to be characteristic of nomadic groups belonging to the “Scythian World” (Yablonsky 2001). This “Scythian World” includes both the Classic (or European) Scythians from the North Pontic region (7th–3th century BC) and the Southern Siberian (or Asian) populations of the Scythian period (also called Scytho-Siberians). These include, among others, the Sakas from Kazakhstan, the Tagar population from the Minusinsk Basin (Republic of Khakassia), the Aldy-Bel population from Tuva (Russian Federation) and the Pazyryk and Sagly cultures from the Altai Mountains.

Proportions of Scythian mtDNA haplogroups. Western (blue) and eastern (pink) Eurasian lineages are equally distributed in the Arzhan Scytho-Siberian sample. The U5a2a1 haplogroup shared between the two Scythian groups studied is in bold

In this work, we first aim to address the question of the familial and social organization of Scytho-Siberian groups by studying the genetic relationship of 29 individuals from the Aldy-Bel and Sagly cultures using autosomal STRs. (…) were obtained from 5 archeological sites located in the valley of the Eerbek river in Tuva Republic, Russia (Fig. 1). All the mounds of this archeological site were excavated but DNA samples were not collected from all of them. 14C dates mainly fall within the Hallstatt radiocarbon calibration plateau (ca. 800–400 cal BC) where the chronological resolution is poor. Only one date falls on an earlier segment of calibration curve: Le 9817–2650 ± 25 BP, i.e. 843–792 cal BC with a probability of 94.3% (using the OxCal v4.3.2 program). This sample (Bai-Dag 8, Kurgan 1, grave 10) is not from one of the graves studied but was used to date the kurgan as a whole.

Y-chromosome haplogroups were first assigned using the ISOGG 2018 nomenclature. In order to improve the precision of haplogroup definition, we also analyzed a set of Y-chromosome SNP (Supplementary Table 2). Nine samples belonged to the R1a-M513 haplogroup (defined by marker M513) and two of these nine samples were characterized as belonging to the R1a1a1b2-Z93 haplogroup or one of its subclades. Six samples belonged to the Q1b1a-L54 haplogroup and five of these six samples belonged to the Q1b1a3-L330 subclade. One sample belonged to the N-M231 haplogroup.


The distribution of these haplogroups in the population must be confronted with the prevalence of kinship among the samples. Although five individuals belonged to haplogroup Q1b1a3-L330, three of them (ARZ-T18, ARZ-T19 and ARZ-T20) were paternally related (Fig. 2). It must, therefore, be considered that haplogroup Q1b1a3-L330 is present in three independent instances (given that the remaining two instances exhibit no close familial relationship with other samples or one another). All five were buried on the Eki-Ottug 1 archaeological site (although in two different kurgans).

In the same way, although two groups, of two and three individuals, shared haplotypes belonging to the R1a-M513 haplogroup, these groups likely include a father/son pair (ARZ-T2 and ARZ-T12). Therefore, among nine R1a-M513 men, we found six independent haplotypes, one being present in two independent instances. All R1a-M513 haplotypes, however, including those attributed to the R1a1a1b2-Z93 subclade, only differed by one-step mutations, across 5 loci at most. All R1a-M513 individuals were buried on the same site, Eki-Ottug 2, in a single Kurgan.


Haplogroup R1a-M173 was previously reported for 6 Scytho-Siberian individuals from the Tagar culture (Keyser et al. 2009) and one Altaian Scytho-Siberian from the Sebÿstei site (Ricaut et al. 2004a), whereas haplogroup R1a1a1b2-Z93 (or R1a1a1b-S224) was described for one Scythian from Samara (Mathieson et al. 2015) and two Scytho-Siberians from Berel and the Tuva Republic (Unterländer et al. 2017). On the contrary, North Pontic Scythians were found to belong to the R1b1a1a2 haplogroup (Krzewińska et al. 2018), showing a distinction between the two groups of Scythians. (…) The absence of R1b lineages in the Scytho-Siberian individuals tested so far and their presence in the North Pontic Scythians suggest that these 2 groups had a completely different paternal lineage makeup with nearly no gene flow from male carriers between them.

The seven other male individuals studied in this work were found to carry Eastern Eurasian Y haplogroups Q1b1a and one of its subclades (n = 6) and N (n = 1). Haplogroup Q1b1a-L54 was previously described in four males from the Bronze Age in the Altai Mountains (Hollard et al. 2014, 2018) and was clearly associated with Siberian populations (Regueiro et al. 2013).

The N-M231 haplogroup emerged from haplogroup K in Southern Asia around 21,000 years BCE, maybe in Southern China (Shi et al. 2013; Ilumäe et al. 2016). Previous studies attested to its presence in samples from Neolithic and Bronze Age in China (Li et al. 2011; Cui et al. 2013). Waves of northwestern expansion of this haplogroup are described as beginning during the Paleolithic period (Derenko et al. 2006; Shi et al. 2013) but traces of this expansion in archeological samples were reported only in two Scytho-Siberian males from the Altai (Pilipenko et al. 2015).

The sample of haplogroup N comes from the Aldy-Bel culture (ARZ-T15), from the Eerbek site, but has no radiocarbon date. All Q1b-L330 samples come from the Sagly culture, and three are paternally related. The other Q1b-L54 sample is from other tombs in one kurgan at Aldy Bel.

It seems that – exactly as expected – different waves of steppe nomads brought different lineages at a time (the Iron Age) when many regions incorporated different eastern lineages without necessarily changing language. Just like the expansion of N among Ugrians and Samoyeds, and N1c among Finno-Permic peoples, and like many other lineages expanding with federation-like groups in eastern, central, and western Europe


Aquitanians and Iberians of haplogroup R1b are exactly like Indo-Iranians and Balto-Slavs of haplogroup R1a


The final paper on Indo-Iranian peoples, by Narasimhan and Patterson (see preprint), is soon to be published, according to the first author’s Twitter account.

One of the interesting details of the development of Bronze Age Iberian ethnolinguistic landscape was the making of Proto-Iberian and Proto-Basque communities, which we already knew were going to show R1b-P312 lineages, a haplogroup clearly associated during the Bell Beaker period with expanding North-West Indo-Europeans:

From the Bronze Age (~2200–900 BCE), we increase the available dataset from 7 to 60 individuals and show how ancestry from the Pontic-Caspian steppe (Steppe ancestry) appeared throughout Iberia in this period, albeit with less impact in the south. The earliest evidence is in 14 individuals dated to ~2500–2000 BCE who coexisted with local people without Steppe ancestry. These groups lived in close proximity and admixed to form the Bronze Age population after 2000 BCE with ~40% ancestry from incoming groups. Y-chromosome turnover was even more pronounced, as the lineages common in Copper Age Iberia (I2, G2, and H) were almost completely replaced by one lineage, R1b-M269.

Proportion of ancestry derived from central European Beaker/Bronze Age populations in Iberians from the Middle Neolithic to the Iron Age (table S15). Colors indicate the Y-chromosome haplogroup for each male. Red lines represent period of admixture. Modified from Olalde et al. (2019).

The arrival of East Bell Beakers speaking Indo-European languages involved, nevertheless, the survival of the two non-IE communities isolated from each other – likely stemming from south-western France and south-eastern Iberia – thanks to a long-lasting process of migration and admixture. There are some common misconceptions about ancient languages in Iberia which may have caused some wrong interpretations of the data in the paper and elsewhere:

NOTE. A simple reading of Iberian prehistory would be enough to correct these. Two recent books on this subject are Villar’s Indoeuropeos, iberos, vascos y otros parientes and Vascos, celtas e indoeuropeos. Genes y lenguas.

Iberian languages were spoken at least in the Mediterranean and the south (ca. “1/3 of Iberia“) during the Bronze Age.

Nope, we only know the approximate location of Iberian culture and inscriptions from the Late Iron Age, and they occupy the south-eastern and eastern coastal areas, but before that it is unclear where they were spoken. In fact, it seems evident now that the arrival of Urnfield groups from the north marks the arrival of Celtic-speaking peoples, as we can infer from the increase in Central European admixture, while the expansion of anthropomorphic stelae from the north-west must have marked the expansion of Lusitanian.

Vasconic was spoken in both sides of the Pyrenees, as it was in the Middle Ages.

Wrong. One of the worst mistakes I am seeing in many comments since the paper was published, although admittedly the paper goes around this problem talking about “Modern Basques”. Vasconic toponyms appear south of the Pyrenees only after the Roman conquests, and tribes of the south-western Pyrenees and Cantabrian regions were likely Celtic-speaking peoples. Aquitanians (north of the western Pyrenees) are the only known ancient Vasconic-speaking population in proto-historic times, ergo the arrival of Bell Beakers in Iberia was most likely accompanied by Indo-European languages which were later replaced by Celtic expanding from Central Europe, and Iberian expanding from south-east Iberia, and only later with Latin and Vasconic.

Ligurian is non-Indo-European, and Lusitanian is Celtic-like, so Iberia must have been mostly non-Indo-European-speaking.

The fragmentary material available on Ligurian is enough to show that phonetically it is a NWIE dialect of non-Celtic, non-Italic nature, much like Lusitanian; that is, unless you follow laryngeals up to Celtic or Italic, in which case you can argue anything about this or any other IE language, as people who reconstruct laryngeals for Baltic in the common era do.

EDIT (19 Mar 2019): It was not clear enough from this paragraph, because Ligurian-like languages in NE Iberia is just a hypothesis based on the archaeological connection of the whole southern France Bell Beaker region. My aim was to repeat the idea that Old European topo-hydronymy is older in NE Iberia (as almost anywhere in Iberia) than Iberian toponymy, so the initial hypothesis is that:

  1. a Palaeo-European language (as Villar puts it) expanded into most regions of Iberia in ancient times (he considered at some point the Mesolithic, but that is obviously wrong, as we know now); then
  2. Celts expanded at least to the Ebro River Basin; then
  3. Iberians expanded to the north and replaced these in NE Iberia; and only then
  4. after the Roman invasion, around the start of the Common Era, appear Vasconic toponyms south of the Pyrenees.

Lusitanian obviously does not qualify as Celtic, lacking the most essential traits that define Celticness…Unless you define “(Para-)Celtic” as Pre-Proto-Celtic-like, or anything of the sort to support some Atlantic continuity, in which case you can also argue that Pre-Italic or Pre-Germanic are Celtic, because you would be essentially describing North-West Indo-European

If Basques have R1b, it’s because of a culture of “matrilocality” as opposed to the “patrilocality” of Indo-Europeans

So wrong it hurts my eyes every time I read this. Not only does matrilocality in a regional group have few known effects in genetics, but there are many well-documented cases of population replacement (with either ancestry or Y-DNA haplogroups, or both) without language replacement, without a need to resort to “matrilineality” or “matrilocality” or any other cultural difference in any of these cases.

In fact, it seems quite likely now that isolated ancient peoples north of the Pyrenees will show a gradual replacement of surviving I2a lineages by neighbouring R1b, while early Iberian R1b-DF27 lineages are associated with Lusitanians, and later incoming R1b-DF27 lineages (apart from other haplogroups) are most likely associated with incoming Celts, which must have remained in north-central and central-east European groups.

NOTE. Notice how R1a is fully absent from all known early Indo-European peoples to date, whether Iberian IE, British IE, Italic, or Greek. The absence of R1a in Iberia after the arrival of Celts is even more telling of the origin of expanding Celts in Central Europe.

I haven’t had enough time to add Iberian samples to my spreadsheet, and hence neither to the ASoSaH texts nor maps/PCAs (and I don’t plan to, because it’s more efficient for me to add both, Asian and Iberian samples, at the same time), but luckily Maciamo has summed it up on Eupedia. Or, graphically depicted in the paper for the southeast:

Y chromosome haplogroup composition of individuals from southeast Iberia during the past 2000 years. The general Iberian Bronze and Iron Age population is included for comparison. Modified from Olalde et al. (2019).

Does this continued influx of Y-DNA haplogroups in Iberia with different cultures represent permanent changes in language? Are, therefore, modern Iberian languages derived from Lusitanian, Sorothaptic/Celtic, Greek, Phoenician, East or West Germanic, Hebrew, Berber, or Arabic languages? Obviously not. Same with Italy (see the recent preprint on modern Italians by Raveane et al. 2018), with France, with Germany, or with Greece.

If that happens in European regions with a known ancient history, why would the recent expansions and bottlenecks of R1b in modern Basques (or N1c around the Baltic, or R1a in Slavs) in the Middle Ages represent an ancestral language surviving into modern times?


If something is clear from Narasimhan, Patterson, et al. (2018), is that we know finally the timing of the introduction and expansion of R1a-Z645 lineages among Indo-Iranians.

We could already propose since 2015 that a slow admixture happened in the steppes, based on archaeological finds, due to settlement elites dominating over common peoples, coupled with the known Uralic linguistic traits of Indo-Iranian (and known Indo-Iranian influence on Finno-Ugric) – as I did in the first version of the Indo-European demic diffusion model.

The new huge sampling of Sintashta – combined with that of Catacomb, Poltavka, Potapovka, Andronovo, and Srubna – shows quite clearly how this long-term admixture process between Uralic peoples and Indo-Iranians happened between forest-steppe CWC (mainly Abashevo) and steppe groups. The situation is not different from that of Iberia ca. 2500-2000 BC; from Narasimhan, Patterson, et al. (2018):

We combined the newly reported data from Kamennyi Ambar 5 with previously reported data from the Sintashta 5 individuals (10). We observed a main cluster of Sintashta individuals that was similar to Srubnaya, Potapovka, and Andronovo in being well modeled as a mixture of Yamnaya-related and Anatolian Neolithic (European agriculturalist-related) ancestry.

Even with such few words referring to one of the most important data in the paper about what happened in the steppes, Wang et al. (2018) help us understand what really happened with this simplistic concept of “steppe ancestry” regarding Yamna vs. Corded Ware differences:

Image modified from Wang et al. (2018). Marked are: in red, approximate limit of Anatolia_Neolithic ancestry found in Yamna populations; in blue, Corded Ware-related groups. “Modelling results for the Steppe and Caucasus 1128 cluster. Admixture proportions based on (temporally and geographically) distal and proximal models, showing additional Anatolian farmer-related ancestry in Steppe groups as well as additional gene flow from the south in some of the Steppe groups as well as the Caucasus groups (see also Supplementary Tables 10, 14 and 20).”

As with Iberia (or any prehistoric region), the details of how exactly this language change happened are not evident, but we only need a plausible explanation coupled with archaeology and linguistics. Poltavka, Potapovka, and Sintashta samples – like the few available Iberian ones ca. 2500-2000 BC – offer a good picture of the cohabitation of R1b-L23 (mainly Z2103) and R1a-Z645 (mainly Z93+): a glimpse at the likely presence of R1a-Z93 within settlements – which must have evolved as the dominant elites – in a society where the majority of the population was initially formed by nomad herders (probably most R1b-Z2103), who were usually buried outside of the main settlements.

Will the upcoming Narasimhan, Patterson et al. (2019) deal with this problem of how R1a-M417 replaced R1b-M269, and how the so-called “Steppe_MLBA” (i.e. Corded Ware) ancestry admixed with “Steppe_EMBA” (i.e. Yamnaya) ancestry in the steppes, and which one of their languages survived in the region (that is, the same the Reich Lab has done with Iberia)? Not likely. The ‘genetic wars’ in Iberia deal with haplogroup R1b-P312, and how it was neither ‘native’ nor associated with Basques and non-Indo-European peoples in general. The ‘genetic wars’ in South Asia are concerned with the steppe origin of R1a, to prove that it is not a ‘native’ haplogroup to India, and thus neither are Indo-Aryan languages. To each region a politically correct account of genetic finds, with enough care not to fully dismiss national myths, it seems.

NOTE. Funnily enough, these ‘genetic wars’ are the making of geneticists since the 1990s and 2000s, so we are still in the midst of mostly internal wars caused by what they write. Just as genetic papers of the 2020s will most likely be a reaction to what they are writing right now about “steppe ancestry” and R1a. You won’t find much change to the linguistic reconstruction in this whole period, except for the most multicolored glottochronological proposals…

The first author of the paper has engaged, as far as I could see in Twitter, in dialogue with Hindu nationalists who try to dismiss the arrival of steppe ancestry and R1a into South Asia as inconclusive (to support the potential origin of Sanskrit millennia ago in the Indus Valley Civilization). How can geneticists deal with the real problem here (the original ethnolinguistic group expanding with Corded Ware), when they have to fend off anti-steppists from Europe and Asia? How can they do it, when they themselves are part of the same societies that demand a politically correct presentation of data?

This is how the data on the most likely Indo-Iranian-speaking region should be presented in an ideal world, where – as in the Iberia paper – geneticists would look closely to the Volga-Ural region to discover what happened with Proto-Indo-Iranians from their earliest to their latest stage, instead of constantly looking for sites close to the Indus Valley to demonstrate who knows what about modern Indian culture:

Tentative map of the Late PIE and Indo-Iranian community in the Volga-Ural steppes since the Eneolithic. Proportion of ancestry derived from central European Corded Ware peoples. Colors indicate the Y-chromosome haplogroup for each male. Red lines represent period of admixture. Modified from Olalde et al. (2019).

Now try and tell Hindu nationalists that Sanskrit expanded from an Early Bronze Age steppe community of R1b-rich nomadic herders that spoke Pre-Indo-Iranian, which was dominated and eventually (genetically) mostly replaced by elite Uralic-speaking R1a peoples from the Russian forest, hence the known phonetic (and some morphological) traits that remained. Good luck with the Europhobic shitstorm ahead..


Iberian cultures, already with a majority of R1b lineages, show a clear northward expansion over previously Urnfield-like groups of north-east Iberia and Mediterranean France (which we now know probably represent the migration of Celts from central Europe). Similarly, Eastern Balts already under a majority of R1a lineages expanded likely into the Baltic region at the same time as the outlier from Turlojiškė (ca. 1075 BC), which represents the first obvious contacts of central-east Europe with the Baltic.

Iberia shows a more recent influx of central and eastern Mediterranean peoples, one of which eventually succeeded in imposing their language in Western Europe: Romans were possibly associated mainly with R1b-U152, apart from many other lineages. Proto-Slavs probably expanded later than Celts, too, connected to the disintegration of the Lusatian culture, and they were at some point associated with R1a-M458 and R1a-Z280(xZ92) lineages, apart from others already found in Early Slavs.

PCA of central-eastern European groups which may have formed the Balto-Slavic-speaking community derived from Bell Beaker, evident from the position ‘westwards’ of CWC in the PCA, and surrounding cultures. Left: Early Bronze Age. Right: Tollense Valley samples.

This parallel between Iberia and eastern Europe is no coincidence: as Europe entered the Bronze Age, chiefdom-based systems became common, and thus the connection of ancestry or haplogroups with ethnolinguistic groups became weaker.

What happened earlier (and who may represent the Pre-Balto-Slavic community) will be clearer when we have enough eastern European samples, but basically we will be able to depict this admixture of NWIE-speaking BBC-derived peoples with Uralic-speaking CWC-derived groups (since Uralic is known to have strongly influenced Balto-Slavic), similar to the admixture found in Indo-Iranians, more or less like this:

Tentative map of the North-West Indo-European and Balto-Slavic community in central-eastern Europe since the East Bell Beaker expansion. Proportion of ancestry derived from Corded Ware peoples. Colors indicate the Y-chromosome haplogroup for each male. Red lines represent period of admixture. Modified from Olalde et al. (2019).

The Early Scythian period marked a still stronger chiefdom-based system which promoted the creation of alliances and federation-like groups, with an earlier representation of the system expanding from north-eastern Europe around the Baltic Sea, precisely during the spread of Akozino warrior-traders (in turn related to the Scythian influence in the forest-steppes), who are the most likely ancestors of most N1c-V29 lineages among modern Germanic, Balto-Slavic, and Volga-Finnic peoples.

Modern haplogroup+language = ancient ones?

It is not difficult to realize, then, that the complex modern genetic picture in Eastern Europe and around the Urals, and also in South Asia (like that of the Aegean or Anatolia) is similar to the Iron Age / medieval Iberian one, and that following modern R1a as an Indo-European marker just because some modern Indo-European-speaking groups showed it was always a flawed methodology; as flawed as following R1b for ancient Vasconic groups, or N1c for ancient Uralic groups.

Why people would argue that haplogroups mean continuity (e.g. R1b with Basques, N1c with Finns, R1a with Slavs, etc.) may be understood, if one lives still in the 2000s. Just like why one would argue that Corded Ware is Indo-European, because of Gimbutas’ huge influence since the 1960s with her myth of “Kurgan peoples”. Not many denied these haplogroup associations, because there was no reason to do it, and those who did usually aligned with a defense of descriptive archaeology.

However, it is a growing paradox that some people interested in genetics today would now, after the Iberian paper, need to:

  • accept that ancient Iberians and probably Aquitanians (each from different regions, and probably from different “Basque-Iberian dialects” in the Chalcolithic, if both were actually related) show eventually expansions with R1b-L23, the haplogroup most obviously associated with expanding Indo-Europeans;
  • acknowledge that modern Iberians have many different lineages derived from prehistoric or historic peoples (Celts, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Jews, Goths, Berbers, Arabs), which have undergone different bottlenecks, the last ones during the Reconquista, but none of their languages have survived;
  • realize that a similar picture is to be found everywhere in central and western Europe since the first proto-historic records, with language replacement in spite of genetic continuity, such as the British Isles (and R1b-L21 continuity) after the arrival of Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, or Normans;
  • but, at the same time, continue blindly asserting that haplogroup R1a + “steppe ancestry” represent some kind of supernatural combination which must show continuity with their modern Indo-Iranian or Balto-Slavic language from time immemorial.
Replacement of R1b-L23 lineages during the Early Bronze Age in eastern Europe and in the Eurasian steppes: emergence of R1a in previous Yamnaya and Bell Beaker territories. Modified from EBA Y-DNA map.

Behave, pretty please

The ‘conservative’ message espoused by some geneticists and amateur genealogists here is basically as follows:

  • Let’s not rush to new theories that contradict the 2000s, lest some people get offended by granddaddy not being these pure whatever wherever as they believed, and let’s wait some 5, 10, or 20 years, as long as necessary – to see if some corner of the Yamna culture shows R1a, or some region in north-eastern Europe shows N1c, or some Atlantic Chalcolithic sample shows R1b – to challenge our preferred theories, if we actually need to challenge anything at all, because it hurts too much.
  • Just don’t let many of these genetic genealogists or academics of our time be unhappy, pretty please with sugar on top, and let them slowly adapt to reality with more and more pet theories to fit everything together (past theories + present data), so maybe when all of them are gone, within 50 or 70 years, society can smoothly begin to move on and propose something closer to reality, but always as politically correct as possible for the next generations.
  • For starters, let’s discuss now (yet again) that Bell Beakers may not have been Indo-European at all, despite showing (unlike Corded Ware) clearly Yamna male lineages and ancestry, because then Corded Ware and R1a could not have been Indo-European and that’s terrible, so maybe Bell Beakers are too brachycephalic to speak Indo-European or something, or they were stopped by the Fearsome Tisza River, or they are not pure Dutch Single Grave in The South hence not Indo-European, or whatever, and that’s why Iron Age Iberians or Etruscans show non-Indo-European languages. That’s not disrespectful to the history of certain peoples, of course not, but talking about the evident R1a-Uralic connection is, because this is The South, not The North, and respect works differently there.
  • Just don’t talk about how Slavs and Balts enter history more than 1,500 years later than Indo-European peoples in Western and Southern Europe, including Iberia, and assume a heroic continuity of Balts and Slavs as pure R1a ‘steppe-like’ peoples dominating over thousands of kms. in the Baltic, Fennoscandia, eastern Europe, and northern Asia for 5,000 years, with multiple Balto-Slavs-over-Balto-Slavs migrations, because these absolute units of Indo-European peoples were a trip and a half. They are the Asterix and Obelix of white Indo-European prehistory.
  • Perhaps in the meantime we can also invent some new glottochronological dialectal scheme that fits the expansion of Sredni Stog/Corded Ware with (Germano-?)Indo-Slavonic separated earlier than any other Late PIE dialect; and Finno-Volgaic later than any other Uralic dialect, in the Middle Ages, with N1c.
Genetic structure of the Balto-Slavic populations within a European context according to the three genetic systems, from Kushniarevich et al. (2015). Pure Balto-Slavs from…hmm…yeah this…ancient…region…or people…cluster…Whatever, very very steppe-like peoples, the True Indo-Europeans™, so close to Yamna…almost as close as Finno-Ugrians.

To sum up: Iberia, Italy, France, the British Isles, central Europe, the Balkans, the Aegean, or Anatolia, all these territories can have a complex history of periodic admixture and language replacement everywhere, but some peoples appearing later than all others in the historical record (viz. Basques or Slavs) apparently cannot, because that would be shameful for their national or ethnic myths, and these should be respected.

Ignorance of the own past as a blank canvas to be filled in with stupid ethnolinguistic continuity, turned into something valuable that should not be challenged. Ethnonationalist-like reasoning proper of the 19th century. How can our times be called ‘modern’ when this kind of magical thinking is still prevalent, even among supposedly well-educated people?


ASoSaH Reread (II): Y-DNA haplogroups among Uralians (apart from R1a-M417)


This is mainly a reread of from Book Two: A Game of Clans of the series A Song of Sheep and Horses: chapters iii.5. Early Indo-Europeans and Uralians, iv.3. Early Uralians, v.6. Late Uralians and vi.3. Disintegrating Uralians.

“Sredni Stog”

While the true source of R1a-M417 – the main haplogroup eventually associated with Corded Ware, and thus Uralic speakers – is still not known with precision, due to the lack of R1a-M198 in ancient samples, we already know that the Pontic-Caspian steppes were probably not it.

We have many samples from the north Pontic area since the Mesolithic compared to the Volga-Ural territory, and there is a clear prevalence of I2a-M223 lineages in the forest-steppe area, mixed with R1b-V88 (possibly a back-migration from south-eastern Europe).

R1a-M459 (xR1a-M198) lineages appear from the Mesolithic to the Chalcolithic scattered from the Baltic to the Caucasus, from the Dniester to Samara, in a situation similar to haplogroups Q1a-M25 and R1b-L754, which supports the idea that R1a, Q1a, and R1b expanded with ANE ancestry, possibly in different waves since the Epipalaeolithic, and formed the known ANE:EHG:WHG cline.

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

The first confirmed R1a-M417 sample comes from Alexandria, roughly coinciding with the so-called steppe hiatus. Its emergence in the area of the previous “early Sredni Stog” groups (see the mess of the traditional interpretation of the north Pontic groups as “Sredni Stog”) and its later expansion with Corded Ware supports Kristiansen’s interpretation that Corded Ware emerged from the Dnieper-Dniester corridor, although samples from the area up to ca. 4000 BC, including the few Middle Eneolithic samples available, show continuity of hg. I2a-M223 and typical Ukraine Neolithic ancestry.

NOTE. The further subclade R1a-Z93 (Y26) reported for the sample from Alexandria seems too early, given the confidence interval for its formation (ca. 3500-2500 BC); even R1a-Z645 could be too early. Like the attribution of the R1b-L754 from Khvalynsk to R1b-V1636 (after being previously classifed as of Pre-V88 and M73 subclade), it seems reasonable to take these SNP calls with a pinch of salt: especially because Yleaf (designed to look for the furthest subclade possible) does not confirm for them any subclade beyond R1a-M417 and R1b-L754, respectively.

The sudden appearance of “steppe ancestry” in the region, with the high variability shown by Ukraine_Eneolithic samples, suggests that this is due to recent admixture of incoming foreign peoples (of Ukraine Neolithic / Comb Ware ancestry) with Novodanilovka settlers.

The most likely origin of this population, taking into account the most common population movements in the area since the Neolithic, is the infiltration of (mainly) hunter-gatherers from the forest areas. That would confirm the traditional interpretation of the origin of Uralic speakers in the forest zone, although the nature of Pontic-Caspian settlers as hunter-gatherers rather than herders make this identification today fully unnecessary (see here).

EDIT (3 FEB 2019): As for the most common guesstimates for Proto-Uralic, roughly coinciding with the expansion of this late Sredni Stog community (ca. 4000 BC), you can read the recent post by J. Pystynen in Freelance Reconstruction, Probing the roots of Samoyedic.

Late Sredni Stog admixture shows variability proper of recent admixture of forest-steppe peoples with steppe-like population. See full version here.

NOTE. Although my initial simplistic interpretation (of early 2017) of Comb Ware peoples – traditionally identified as Uralic speakers – potentially showing steppe ancestry was probably wrong, it seems that peoples from the forest zone – related to Comb Ware or neighbouring groups like Lublyn-Volhynia – reached forest-steppe areas to the south and eventually expanded steppe ancestry into east-central Europe through the Volhynian Upland to the Polish Upland, during the late Trypillian disintegration (see a full account of the complex interactions of the Final Eneolithic).

The most interesting aspect of ascertaining the origin of R1a-M417, given its prevalence among Uralic speakers, is to precisely locate the origin of contacts between Late Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Uralic. Traditionally considered as the consequence of contacts between Middle and Upper Volga regions, the most recent archaeological research and data from ancient DNA samples has made it clear that it is Corded Ware the most likely vector of expansion of Uralic languages, hence these contacts of Indo-Europeans of the Volga-Ural region with Uralians have to be looked for in neighbours of the north Pontic area.

Sredni Stog – Repin contacts representing Uralic – Late Indo-European contacts were probably concentrated around the Don River.

My bet – rather obvious today – is that the Don River area is the source of the earliest borrowings of Late Uralic from Late Indo-European (i.e. post-Indo-Anatolian). The borrowing of the Late PIE word for ‘horse’ is particularly interesting in this regard. Later contacts (after the loss of the initial laryngeal) may be attributed to the traditionally depicted Corded Ware – Yamna contact zone in the Dnieper-Dniester area.

NOTE. While the finding of R1a-M417 populations neighbouring R1b-L23 in the Don-Volga interfluve would be great to confirm these contacts, I don’t know if the current pace of more and more published samples will continue. The information we have right now, in my opinion, suffices to support close contacts of neighbouring Indo-Europeans and Uralians in the Pontic-Caspian area during the Late Eneolithic.

Classical Corded Ware

After some complex movements of TRB, late Trypillia and GAC peoples, Corded Ware apparently emerged in central-east Europe, under the influence of different cultures and from a population that probably (at least partially) stemmed from the north Pontic forest-steppe area.

Single Grave and central Corded Ware groups – showing some of the earliest available dates (emerging likely ca. 3000/2900 BC) – are as varied in their haplogroups as it is expected from a sink (which does not in the least resemble the Volga-Ural population):

Interesting is the presence of R1b-L754 in Obłaczkowo, potentially of R1b-V88 subclade, as previously found in two Central European individuals from Blätterhole MN (ca. 3650 and 3200 BC), and in the Iron Gates and north Pontic areas.

Haplogroups I2a and G have also been reported in early samples, all potentially related to the supposed Corded Ware central-east European homeland, likely in southern Poland, a region naturally connected to the north Pontic forest-steppe area and to the expansion of Neolithic groups.

Y-DNA samples from early Corded Ware groups and neighbouring cultures. See full version.

The true bottlenecks under haplogroup R1a-Z645 seem to have happened only during the migration of Corded Ware to the east: to the north into the Battle Axe culture, mainly under R1a-Z282, and to the south into Middle Dnieper – Fatyanovo-Balanovo – Abashevo, probably eventually under R1a-Z93.

This separation is in line with their reported TMRCA, and supports the split of Finno-Permic from an eastern Uralic group (Ugric and Samoyedic), although still in contact through the Russian forest zone to allow for the spread of Indo-Iranian loans.

This bottleneck also supports in archaeology the expansion of a sort of unifying “Corded Ware A-horizon” spreading with people (disputed by Furholt), the disintegrating Uralians, and thus a source of further loanwords shared by all surviving Uralic languages.

Confirming this ‘concentrated’ Uralic expansion to the east is the presence of R1a-M417 (xR1a-Z645) lineages among early and late Single Grave groups in the west – which essentially disappeared after the Bell Beaker expansion – , as well as the presence of these subclades in modern Central and Western Europeans. Central European groups became thus integrated in post-Bell Beaker European EBA cultures, and their Uralic dialect likely disappeared without a trace.

NOTE. The fate of R1b-L51 lineages – linked to North-West Indo-Europeans undergoing a bottleneck in the Yamna Hungary -> Bell Beaker migration to the west – is thus similar to haplogroup R1a-Z645 – linked to the expansion of Late Uralians to the east – , hence proving the traditional interpretation of the language expansions as male-driven migrations. These are two of the most interesting genetic data we have to date to confirm previous language expansions and dialectal classifications.

It will be also interesting to see if known GAC and Corded Ware I2a-Y6098 subclades formed eventually part of the ancient Uralic groups in the east, apart from lineages which will no doubt appear among asbestos ware groups and probably hunter-gatherers from north-eastern Europe (see the recent study by Tambets et al. 2018).

Corded Ware ancestry marked the expansion of Uralians

Sadly, some brilliant minds decided in 2015 that the so-called “Yamnaya ancestry” (now more appropriately called “steppe ancestry”) should be associated to ‘Indo-Europeans’. This is causing the development of various new pet theories on the go, as more and more data contradicts this interpretation.

There is a clear long-lasting cultural, populational, and natural barrier between Yamna and Corded Ware: they are derived from different ancestral populations, which show clearly different ancestry and ancestry evolution (although they did converge to some extent), as well as different Y-DNA bottlenecks; they show different cultures, including those of preceding and succeeding groups, and evolved in different ecological niches. The only true steppe pastoralists who managed to dominate over grasslands extending from the Upper Danube to the Altai were Yamna peoples and their cultural successors.

Corded Ware admixture proper of expanding late Sredni Stog-like populations from the forest-steppe. See full version here.

NOTE. You can also read two recent posts by FrankN in the blog aDNA era, with detailed information on the Pontic-Caspian cultures and the formation of “steppe ancestry” during the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic: How did CHG get into Steppe_EMBA? Part 1: LGM to Early Holocene and How did CHG get into Steppe_EMBA? Part 2: The Pottery Neolithic. Unlike your typical amateur blogger on genetics using few statistical comparisons coupled with ‘archaeolinguoracial mumbo jumbo’ to reach unscientific conclusions, these are obviously carefully redacted texts which deserve to be read.

I will not enter into the discussion of “steppe ancestry” and the mythical “Siberian ancestry” for this post, though. I will just repost the opinion of Volker Heyd – an archaeologist specialized in Yamna Hungary and Bell Beakers who is working with actual geneticists – on the early conclusions based on “steppe ancestry”:

[A]rchaeologist Volker Heyd at the University of Bristol, UK, disagreed, not with the conclusion that people moved west from the steppe, but with how their genetic signatures were conflated with complex cultural expressions. Corded Ware and Yamnaya burials are more different than they are similar, and there is evidence of cultural exchange, at least, between the Russian steppe and regions west that predate Yamnaya culture, he says. None of these facts negates the conclusions of the genetics papers, but they underscore the insufficiency of the articles in addressing the questions that archaeologists are interested in, he argued. “While I have no doubt they are basically right, it is the complexity of the past that is not reflected,” Heyd wrote, before issuing a call to arms. “Instead of letting geneticists determine the agenda and set the message, we should teach them about complexity in past human actions.


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.

“Steppe people seem not to have penetrated South Asia”


Open access structured abstract for The first horse herders and the impact of early Bronze Age steppe expansions into Asia from Damgaard et al. Science (2018) 360(6396):eaar7711.

Abstract (emphasis mine):

The Eurasian steppes reach from the Ukraine in Europe to Mongolia and China. Over the past 5000 years, these flat grasslands were thought to be the route for the ebb and flow of migrant humans, their horses, and their languages. de Barros Damgaard et al. probed whole-genome sequences from the remains of 74 individuals found across this region. Although there is evidence for migration into Europe from the steppes, the details of human movements are complex and involve independent acquisitions of horse cultures. Furthermore, it appears that the Indo-European Hittite language derived from Anatolia, not the steppes. The steppe people seem not to have penetrated South Asia. Genetic evidence indicates an independent history involving western Eurasian admixture into ancient South Asian peoples.

According to the commonly accepted “steppe hypothesis,” the initial spread of Indo-European (IE) languages into both Europe and Asia took place with migrations of Early Bronze Age Yamnaya pastoralists from the Pontic-Caspian steppe. This is believed to have been enabled by horse domestication, which revolutionized transport and warfare. Although in Europe there is much support for the steppe hypothesis, the impact of Early Bronze Age Western steppe pastoralists in Asia, including Anatolia and South Asia, remains less well understood, with limited archaeological evidence for their presence. Furthermore, the earliest secure evidence of horse husbandry comes from the Botai culture of Central Asia, whereas direct evidence for Yamnaya equestrianism remains elusive.

We investigated the genetic impact of Early Bronze Age migrations into Asia and interpret our findings in relation to the steppe hypothesis and early spread of IE languages. We generated whole-genome shotgun sequence data (~1 to 25 X average coverage) for 74 ancient individuals from Inner Asia and Anatolia, as well as 41 high-coverage present-day genomes from 17 Central Asian ethnicities.

Model-based admixture proportions for selected ancient and present-day individuals, assuming K = 6, shown with their corresponding geographical locations. Ancient groups are represented by larger admixture plots, with those sequenced in the present work surrounded by black borders and others used for providing context with blue borders. Present-day South Asian groups are represented by smaller admixture plots with dark red borders.

We show that the population at Botai associated with the earliest evidence for horse husbandry derived from an ancient hunter-gatherer ancestry previously seen in the Upper Paleolithic Mal’ta (MA1) and was deeply diverged from the Western steppe pastoralists. They form part of a previously undescribed west-to-east cline of Holocene prehistoric steppe genetic ancestry in which Botai, Central Asians, and Baikal groups can be modeled with different amounts of Eastern hunter-gatherer (EHG) and Ancient East Asian genetic ancestry represented by Baikal_EN.

In Anatolia, Bronze Age samples, including from Hittite speaking settlements associated with the first written evidence of IE languages, show genetic continuity with preceding Anatolian Copper Age (CA) samples and have substantial Caucasian hunter-gatherer (CHG)–related ancestry but no evidence of direct steppe admixture.

In South Asia, we identified at least two distinct waves of admixture from the west, the first occurring from a source related to the Copper Age Namazga farming culture from the southern edge of the steppe, who exhibit both the Iranian and the EHG components found in many contemporary Pakistani and Indian groups from across the subcontinent. The second came from Late Bronze Age steppe sources, with a genetic impact that is more localized in the north and west.

Our findings reveal that the early spread of Yamnaya Bronze Age pastoralists had limited genetic impact in Anatolia as well as Central and South Asia. As such, the Asian story of Early Bronze Age expansions differs from that of Europe. Intriguingly, we find that direct descendants of Upper Paleolithic hunter-gatherers of Central Asia, now extinct as a separate lineage, survived well into the Bronze Age. These groups likely engaged in early horse domestication as a prey-route transition from hunting to herding, as otherwise seen for reindeer. Our findings further suggest that West Eurasian ancestry entered South Asia before and after, rather than during, the initial expansion of western steppe pastoralists, with the later event consistent with a Late Bronze Age entry of IE languages into South Asia. Finally, the lack of steppe ancestry in samples from Anatolia indicates that the spread of the earliest branch of IE languages into that region was not associated with a major population migration from the steppe.

I think the wording of the abstract is weird, but consequent with their samples and results, so probably just clickbait / citebait for Indian journalists and social networks, or maybe a new attempt to ‘show respect for the sensibilities of Indians’ related to the artificially magnified “AIT vs. OIT” controversy, that is only present in India.

However, everything is possible, since it is brought to you by the same Danish group who proposed the Yamnaya ancestral component™, the CHG = Indo-European (and simultaneously EHG in Maykop = Anatolian??), and now also the CWC/R1a = Indo-European & Volosovo = Uralic

Here is the reaction of Narasimhan: Narasimhan has deleted the Tweet, it basically questioned the sentence that steppe people did not penetrate South Asia.


The origin of social complexity in the development of the Sintashta culture


Very interesting PhD thesis by Igor Chechushkov, Bronze Age human communities in the Southern Urals steppe: Sintashta-Petrovka social and subsistence organization (2018).


Why and how exactly social complexity develops through time from small-scale groups to the level of large and complex institutions is an essential social science question. Through studying the Late Bronze Age Sintashta-Petrovka chiefdoms of the southern Urals (cal. 2050–1750 BC), this research aims to contribute to an understanding of variation in the organization of local communities in chiefdoms. It set out to document a segment of the Sintashta-Petrovka population not previously recognized in the archaeological record and learn about how this segment of the population related to the rest of the society. The Sintashta-Petrovka development provides a comparative case study of a pastoral society divided into sedentary and mobile segments.

Subsurface testing on the peripheries of three Sintashta-Petrovka communities suggests that a group of mobile herders lived outside the walls of the nucleated villages on a seasonal basis. During the summer, this group moved away from the village to pasture livestock farther off in the valley, and during the winter returned to shelter adjacent to the settlement. This finding illuminates the functioning of the year-round settlements as centers of production during the summer so as to provide for herd maintenance and breeding and winter shelter against harsh environmental conditions.

The question of why individuals chose in this context to form mutually dependent relationships with other families and thus give up some of their independence can be answered with a combination of two necessities: to remain a community in a newly settled ecological niche and to protect animals from environmental risk and theft. Those who were skillful at managing communal construction of walled villages and protecting people from military threats became the most prominent members of the society. These people formed the core of the chiefdoms but were not able to accumulate much wealth and other possessions. Instead, they acquired high social prestige that could even be transferred to their children. However, this set of relationships did not last longer than 300 years. Once occupation of the region was well established the need for functions served by elites disappeared, and centralized chiefly communities disintegrated into smaller unfortified villages.

Research area: map of the Sintashta-Petrovka archaeological sites. Settlements: 101 – Stepnoye; 102 – Shibaeyvo 1; 103 – Chernorechye 3; 104 – Bakhta; 105 – Paris; 106 – Isiney; 107 – Kuisak; 108 – Ust’ye; 109 – Rodniki; 110 – Konoplyanka; 111 – Zhurumbay; 112 – Arkaim; 113 – Sintashta; 114 – Sintashta 2; 115 – Kamennyi Ambar; 116 – Alandskoye; 117 – Chekatay; 118 – Selek; 119 – Sarym- Sakly; 120 – Kamysty; 121 – Kizilskoye; 122 – Bersuat; 123 – Andreyevskoe; 124 – Ulak; 125 – Streletskoye; 126 – Zarechnoye 4; 127 – Kamennyi Brod. Cemeteries: 201 – Ozernoye 1; 202 – Krivoe Ozero; 203 – Stepnoye M; 204 – Kamennyi Ambar-5; 205 – Stepnoye 1; 206 – Tsarev Kurgan; 207 – Ubagan 2; 208 – Solntse 2; 209 – Bolshekaraganskyi; 210 – Aleksandrovsky 4; 211 – Sintashta; 212 – Solonchanka 1a; 213 – Knyazhenskyi; 214 – Bestamak; 215 – Ishkinovka 1; 216 – Ishkinovka 2; 217 – Novo–Kumakskyi; 218 – Zhaman–Kargala 1; 219 – Tanabergen 2; 220 – Novo-Petrovka; 221 – Semiozernoye 2; 222 – Khalvayi 3

Some interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

The quintessential archaeological evidence of Sintashta-Petrovka communities takes the form of highly nucleated and fortified settlements paired with easily-recognized kurgan (burial mound) cemeteries. This pattern spread across Northern Central Eurasia in a relatively short period of about 300 years (cal. 2050–1750 BC), and the period consists of two chronological phases (Hanks et al. 2007). The earlier Sintashta phase (cal. 2050–1850 BC) is distinguished from the later Petrovka phase (cal. 1850–1750 BC) by some differences in ceramic styles and some techniques of bronze metallurgy (Degtyareva et al. 2001; Vinogradov 2013). Bronze Age subsistence patterns apparently relied on a wide variety of resources, among which meat and milk production played a major role (…). The most outstanding graves are individual male burials accompanied by weaponry (projectile weapons and chariots), the insignia of power (stone mace heads), craft tools, and a specific set of sacrificed animals (horses, cows, and dogs). (…) there were at least two adults buried with chariots and one with sacrificed horses (Epimakhov 1996b). Chariots – the most famous and spectacular material component of Sintashta-Petrovka society – are known exclusively from burial contexts. Two-wheeled vehicles represent complex technology, incorporating some crucial innovations and the investment of substantial resources. Highly developed craft and military skills were required for their production and use. Burials with chariots probably represent military elites who used them (Anthony 2009; Chechushkov 2011; Frachetti 2012:17) and played especially important social roles in Sintashta-Petrovka societies. This pattern strongly suggests that military leadership extended into the realm of ideology and general social prestige (Earle 2011:32–33).

The following sequence of archaeological cultures – based on the sample of radiocarbon dates (Epimakhov 2007a; 2010a), – is adopted: (1) the Sintashta-Petrovka phase 1 dated to cal. 2050–1750 BC and (2) the Srubnaya-Alakul’ phase 2 dated to cal. 1750–1350 BC.

(…) control of craft might have provided a source of power for elites in the fortified settlements (Steponaitis 1991). Some bronze tools, such as chisels, adzes, and handsaws seem more abundantly represented at some fortified settlements than at others, raising the possibility of a stronger focus on different craft products and some degree of exchange and interdependence between fortified settlements. (…) Zdanovich (1995:35) estimates 2500 people within the walls at Arkaim. He bases his conclusion an average house size of 140 m2 and the idea that Arkaim households consisted of an extended family of several generations, similar to Iroquois longhouse inhabitants. He also suggests that the entire population did not live in the “town” all the time, but moved around. The fully permanent residents were shamans, warriors, and craftsmen, i.e., elites and attached specialists.

Summarizing, excavated households represent very strongly similar architectural patterns, similar levels of wealth and prestige, little productive differentiation, and no evidence of elites amassing wealth through control of craft or subsistence production or any other mechanism (Earle 1987). These observations sharply contradict the burial record, where strong social differentiation is visible. The description above recalls the Regional Classic period elites of the Alto Magdalena whose standard of living differed little if at all from anyone else’s. Their elaborate tombs and sculptures suggest supernatural powers and ritual roles were much more important bases of their social prominence than economic control or accumulation of wealth (Drennan 1995:96–97). On the other hand, craft activities (especially metal production) are highly obvious in the Sintashta-Petrovka settlements. Defensive functions could also have played some role for the entire population. This benefit might attract people in an unstable or wild environment to spend much of their time in or near such settlements (Earle 2011:32–33). Since the construction of ditches and outer walls, as well as dwellings with shared walls, requires planning and organization, purposeful collective effort must have been a key feature of Sintashta-Petrovka communities (Vinogradov 2013; Zdanovich 1995). Sintashta-Petrovka communities thus evidence substantial investment of effort in non-subsistence activities, potentially resulting in a subsistence deficit in an economy with a heavy emphasis on herding. Altogether, this makes it plausible to think of the known Sintashta-Petrovka communities as special places where elites for whom military activities were important resided, and where metal production and possibly other crafts were carried out. It remains unclear just how a subsistence economy relying heavily on herding was managed from these substantial sedentary communities. Moving herds around the landscape seasonally is generally thought to be a part of subsistence strategy in Inner Eurasia (Frachetti 2008; Bachura 2013). In this area migration to exploit seasonal pastures is the best strategy for maintaining a regular supply of food for livestock due to shortages of capital or of labor pool to produce, harvest, and store fodder (Dyson-Hudson and Dyson-Hudson 1980:17). The recent stable isotope studies support this notion showing high likelihood that during the Bronze Age livestock was raised locally (Kiseleva et al. 2017).

The above raises the possibility that the residential remains that have been excavated within the fortifications of Sintashta-Petrovka communities represent only a portion of the population (Hanks and Doonan 2009, Johnson and Hanks 2012). It could be (along with the general lines suggested by D. Zdanovich [1997]) that the archaeological remains of the ordinary people who made up the majority of the population, built the impressive fortifications and stoked the subsistence economy have gone largely undetected. In global comparative perspective, many societies with the features known for Sintashta-Petrovka organization consisted of elite central-place settlements and hinterland populations. In such a scenario, the “missing” portion of the Sintashta population would reside in smaller unfortified settlements scattered around in the vicinity of the fortified ones.


In terms of wealth and productive differentiation, the inside assemblage of Kamennyi Ambar demonstrates a higher degree of richness and diversity in its material assemblage, leading to the conclusion that the outside materials may represent a semi-mobile group of people who used significantly less durable materials and accumulated less possessions. As for the diversity within the inside artifact assemblage, some households at Kamennyi Ambar demonstrate more diverse artifact assemblages than others, as well as bigger sizes, that could be related to differences in productive activities and/or wealth differentiation between families. A focus on specific objects of ceramic production in House 1 suggests some degree of productive specialization, while the elite goods in House 5 clearly point out the presence of elite members of the society.

There are two possible social scenarios that explain the settlement situation during the Sintashta-Petrovka phase. The first scenario considers all three communities as simultaneous and the second scenario suggests seeing the three sites as the same community that moved around the landscape during the Late Bronze Age in order to keep the pasture grounds from degradation.

Since no remains of permanent structures were found and any people living outside the walls must have stayed in temporary shelters. If this was the case, then the outside part of the population consisted of a semi-mobile group of people who moved to live near the fortified settlement during the winter. The pattern of animal slaughtering supports this conclusion. Animal teeth found near Kamennyi Ambar and Konoplyanka demonstrate a tendency for animal butchering during the fall, throughout the winter and spring, with less evidence of summer meat consumption. Moreover, since the Bronze Age subsistence strategy relied heavily on pastoralism, herds had to be grazed during the summer and kept safe during the winter. This strongly suggests that the part of the population responsible for management of animals spent their time in the summer pastures with the livestock. During the winter the animals had to be kept in the warm and safe environment of the walled settlements (as suggested by the highest level of phosphorus on the house floors) while the herders stayed in portable shelters in close to the walls.

(…) the outsiders used a less diverse set of tools, as well as less durable materials (for example, wooden instead of metal) in their everyday life and did not accumulate much in the way of archaeologically visible possessions. On the other hand, a few stone and lithic artifacts demonstrate that craft activities were carried out using cheap and abundant raw materials. The artefact assemblages also point out that the people inside accumulated wealth in the form of material belongings and luxury goods, especially, things like metal artifacts and symbolic or military-related stone artifacts, while people outside did not do that. However, the presence of semi-precious stones could signify some kind of wealth accumulation by the segment of population outside the walls. Since there are limits to our ability to assess social relationships from material remains, it is difficult to say if the people who lived outside the walls were oppressed or less respected. Their possible concentration on herding-related activities and livestock keeping might suggest less prestigious social status. The most prominent members of the society were, nonetheless, buried with the attributes of warriors or craft specialists, not those of shepherds, suggesting that those involved in livestock management had less social prestige.

Furthermore, Kuzmina (1994:72) cites linguistic studies demonstrating that the Sanskrit word for a permanent village earlier meant a circle of mobile wagon homes, situated together for defensive purposes for an overnight camp (Kuzmina 1994:72).

The likely population of semi-mobile herders represented some 30%–60% of the entire local community, while the other of 40%–70% were inhabitants of the walled settlement. The almost completely excavated kurgan cemetery of Kamennyi Ambar-5 (only two kurgans remain unstudied) yielded about 100 individuals, or about 2%–5% of the total of 4,896±1,960 individuals in four generations who lived at the nearby settlement for 100 years. In other words, no more than 10% of the population was entitled to be buried under the kurgan mound and this proportion can be taken as an estimate of those with elevated social status. Perhaps, these elites were kin, since analysis of the burial patterns suggests sex/age rather than wealth/prestige differentiation between buried individuals within this elite group (Epimakhov and Berseneva 2011; Ventresca Miller 2013). The remaining non-elite members of the permanently resident community, then, represented some 30%–60% of the complete local community, but did not show evidence of standards of living particularly lower than the elites eventually interred in the kurgan.

(…) The buried population in the Sintashta Cemetery is about 80 individuals or only about 2%–3% of the total estimated population. However, these few individuals were buried with extremely rich offerings, like complete chariots, decorations made of precious metals or sacrifices of six horses (equal to about 900 kg of meat), etc. With such a low proportion of the population assigned such high prestige, the Sintashta local community can easily be labeled a local chiefdom. In Pitman and Doonan’s view (2018) the social structure of the chifedom consisted of a chief and his kin at the highest level; warriors, religious specialists, and craftsmen in the middle; and the pastoral community at the bottom level.


In the Bronze Age, the people who comprised the majority of the permanent population were involved in craft activities, including extraction of copper ores, metallurgy, bone, leather, and woodwork. The most important and labor-intensive part of the economy, however, was haymaking. The evidence of hay found in the cultural layer near Kamennyi Ambar supports the idea that animals were fed during the winter. Nowadays, hay cutting is typically done in July-August, the period of most intensive grazing for animals. Thus, the part of the collective that remained in the settlement had to provide the labor force for haymaking.

In the wintertime, the herders returned to the settlements with the herds, and animals were kept inside the walls––a practice which is known archaeologically (Zakh 1995) and ethnographically (Shahack-Gross et al. 2004)––while herders stayed outside in their tents.

In sum, the Sintashta-Petrovka chiefdoms demonstrate a three-part social order. In Kuzmina’s (1994) view, this is similar to the Varna system of ancient India, that consisted of priests (Sansk. Brahmanis), rulers and warriors (Sansk. Kshatriyas), free producers (Sansk. Vaishyas) and laborers and service providers (Sansk. Shudras). In the Sintashta-Petrovka chiefdom, the elite 2%–5% of the population would have consisted of priests and warriors; 48%–55% would have been dependent producers; and 50%–60% would have been herders of lower social rank.

The map of the Bronze Age sites in the Karagaily-Ayat Valley Sites of Phase 1: 101 – Konoplyanka; 102 – Zhurumbay; 103 – Kamennyi Ambar; 104 – Kamennyi Ambar-5 Sites of Phase 2: 201 – Konoplyanka 1; 202 – Varshavskoye-1; 203 – Zhurumbay-1; 204 – Varshavskoye-3; 205 – Varshavskoye-5; 206 – Varshavskoye-9; 207 – Kamennyi Ambar-8; 208 – Kamennyi Ambar; 209 – Elizavetpolskoye-3; 210 – Elizavetpolskoye-2; 211 – Karagayli-26; 212 – Elizavetpolskoye-7; 213 – Elizavetpolskoye- 9; 214 – Yuzhno-Stepnoyi (1); 215 – Yuzhno-Stepnoyi (2)


In the case of the Sintashta-Petrovka chiefdoms, the questions of why and how exactly social complexity developed through time and why individuals choose to integrate and give up their independence can be answered as some combination of two necessities: to persist as a larger community in the ecological niche of the newly settled region, and to protect herds from theft.

There is general agreement among researchers that the Sintashta phenomenon had no local roots and originated with a large-scale migration of pastoral communities from Eastern Europe to the marginal area of the Southern Urals. This process forced families to stay together and fueled the necessity in the walled villages for ensuring the reproduction of herds in the extreme climatic conditions of the southern Urals that are colder and dryer than the eastern Black Sea region from which the Sintashta populations are thought to have migrated (Kuzmina 1994, 2007; Anthony 2007; Vinogradov 2011, etc.). At the same time, the herds needed protection from animal and human predators. Probably, the risk of losing animals was a threat to survival that created tensions between neighboring communities, and the Neolithic hunter-gatherers who had populated the Urals before the arrival of Sintashta people could have hunted the domestic animals. Apparently, those who were talented in managing the construction of closely-packed villages surrounded by ditches and walls to protect people and livestock from threats from neighbors, and who otherwise served the community in the newly colonized zone became the most prominent members of society. Theses people formed the core of the Sintashta-Petrovka chiefdom but were not able to accumulate much personal wealth in the form of material possessions. Instead, they acquired high social prestige that could even be transferred to their children (since up to 65% of the buried elite population consists of infants [Razhev and Epimakhov 2005). In this sense, the Sintashta-Petrovka elites were simmilar to their counterparts in the Alto Magdalena of Colombia (Drennan 1995; Gonzalez Fernandez 2007; Drennan and Peterson 2008).

However, this situation did not last longer than 300 years, since after the initial phase of colonization of the Southern Urals was over, the need for social services provided by an elite disappeared and centralized chiefly communities disintegrated into the smaller unfortified villages of the Srubnaya-Alakul’ period.

As I have said many times already (see e.g. here) the outsider pastoralists, forming originally the vast majority of the population, were most likely Pre-Proto-Indo-Iranian speakers of haplogroup R1b-Z2103, and their elite groups (whose inheritance system was based on kinship) probably incorporated gradually Uralic-speaking families of haplogroup R1a-Z93, whose relative importance increased gradually, and then eventually expanded massively with the migrations of Andronovo and Srubna, creating a second Y-chromosome bottleneck that favoured again Z93 subclades. The adaptation of Pre-Proto-Indo-Iranian to the Uralic pronunciation, and the adoption of PII vocabulary in neighbouring Proto-Finno-Ugric bear witness to this process.


Sintashta diet and economy based on domesticated animal products and wild resources


New paper (behind paywall) Bronze Age diet and economy: New stable isotope data from the Central Eurasian steppes (2100-1700 BC), by Hanks et al. J. Arch. Sci (2018) 97:14-25.

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

Previous research at KA-5 was carried out by A. V. Epimakhov in 1994–1995 and 2002–2003 and resulted in the excavation of three Sintashta culture barrows (kurgans) that produced 35 burial pits and a reported 100 skeletons (Epimakhov, 2002, 2005; Epimakhov et al., 2005; Razhev and Epimakhov, 2004). Seven AMS radiocarbon dates on human remains from the cemetery yielded a date range of 2040–1730 cal. BC (2 sigma), which placed the cemetery within the Sintashta phase of the regional Bronze Age (Hanks et al., 2007). Twelve recently obtained AMS radiocarbon dates, taken from short-lived wood and charcoal species recovered from the Kamennyi Ambar settlement, have provided a date range of 2050–1760 cal. BC (2 sigma). Importantly, these dates confirm the close chronological relationship between the settlement and cemetery for the Middle Bronze Age phase and discount the possibility of a freshwater reservoir effect influencing the earlier dating of the human remains from the Kamennyi Ambar 5 cemetery (Epimakhov and Krause, 2013).

Sintashta cemeteries frequently yield fewer than six barrow complexes and the number of skeletons recovered represents a fraction of the total population that would have inhabited the settlements (Judd et al., 2018; Johnson and Hanks, 2012). Scholars have suggested that only members of higher status were afforded interment in these cemeteries and that principles of social organization structured placement of individuals within central or peripheral grave pits (Fig. 2) (Koryakova and Epimakhov, 2007: 75–81). In comparison with other Sintashta cemeteries that have been excavated, KA-5 provides one of the largest skeletal inventories currently available for study.

Upper – plan of Kamennyi Ambar settlement and cemetery; Lower – plan views of Kurgan 2 and Kurgan 4 from KA-5 Cemetery (kurgan plans redrawn from Epimakhov, 2005: 10, 79).

The KA-5 (MBA), Bestamak (MBA) and Lisakovsk (LBA) datasets exhibited a wide range of δ13C and δ15N values for both humans and herbivores (Figs. 5 and 6 & Table 8). This diversity in isotopic signals may be evident for a variety of reasons. For example, the range of values may be associated with a broad spectrum of C3 and C4 plant diversity in the ancient site biome or herbivore grazing patterns that included more diverse environmental niche areas in the microregion around the sampled sites. Herders also may have chosen to graze animals in niche areas due to recognized territorial boundaries between settlements and concomitant patterns of mobility. Importantly, data from Bolshekaragansky represents humans with lower δ15N values that are more closely associated with δ15N values of the sampled domestic herbivores (Fig. 6). When the archaeological evidence from associated settlement sites is considered, Bolshekaragansky, Bestamak, Lisakovsk and KA-5 have been assumed to represent populations that shared similar forms of pastoral subsistence economies with significant dietary reliance upon domesticated herbivore meat and milk. Human diets have δ13C values closely related to those of local herbivores in terms of the slope of the trendline and range of values (Fig. 6). Comparatively, the cemetery of Bolshekaragansky (associated with the Arkaim settlement) reflects individuals with trend lines closer to those of cattle and caprines and may indicate a stronger reliance on subsistence products from these species with less use of wild riverine and terrestrial resources. The site of Čiča is significantly different with elevated human δ15N isotopic values and depleted δ13C values indicative of a subsistence regime more closely associated with the consumption of freshwater resources, such as fish. The stable isotopic data in this instance is strongly supported by zooarchaeological evidence recovered from the Čiča settlement and also is indicative of significant diachronic changes from the LBA phases through the Iron Age (Fig. 6).

Regional analysis and comparison of stable isotope results from humans (adults) and animals recovered from MBA and LBA cemeteries in the Southern Urals (Kamennyi Ambar 5 & Bolshekaragansky) northwestern Kazakhstan (Liskovsk & Bestamak) and southwestern Siberia (Čiča).


(…) The isotopic results from KA-5, and recent botanical and archaeological studies from the Kamennyi Ambar settlement, have not produced any evidence for the production or use of domesticated cereals. While this does not definitively answer the question as to whether Sintashta populations engaged in agriculture and/or utilized agricultural products, it does call into serious question the ubiquity of such practices across the region and correlates well with recent archaeological, bioarchaeological, and isotopic studies of human and animal remains from the Southwestern Urals region and Samara Basin (Anthony et al., 2016; Schulting and Richards, 2016). The results substantiate a broader spectrum subsistence diet that in addition to the use of domesticated animal products also incorporated wild flora, wild fauna and fish species. These findings further demonstrate the need to draw on multiple methods and datasets for the reconstruction of late prehistoric subsistence economies in the Eurasian steppes. When possible, this should include datasets from both settlements and associated cemeteries.

Variability in subsistence practices in the central steppes region has been highlighted by other scholars and appears to be strongly correlated with local environmental conditions and adaptations. More comprehensive isotopic studies of human, animal and fish remains are of fundamental importance to achieve more robust and empirically substantiated reconstructions of local biomes and to aid the refinement of regional and micro-regional economic subsistence models. This will allow for a fuller understanding of key diachronic shifts within dietary trends and highlight regional variation of such practices. Ultimately, this will more effectively index the diverse social and environmental variables that contributed to late prehistoric lifeways and the economic strategies employed by these early steppe communities.

Social organization of Sintashta-Petrovka

Interesting to remember now the recent article by Chechushkov et al. (2018) about the social stratificaton in Sintashta-Petrovka, and how it must have caused the long-lasting, peaceful admixture process that led to the known almost full replacement of R1b-L23 (mostly R1b-Z2103) by R1a-Z645 (mostly R1a-Z93) subclades in the North Caspian steppe, coinciding with the formation of the Proto-Indo-Iranian community and language (read my thoughts on this after Damgaard et al. 2018).

Here is another relevant excerpt from Chechushkov et al. (2018), translated from Russian:

The map of the settlement of Kamennyi Ambar with excavations, soil cores, and test pits. Legend: a — cuts of the sides of ravines; b — test pits of 2015—2017; c — test pits of 2004; d — soil-science samples with a cultural layer; e — soil-science samples without cultural layer; f — borders of archaeological sites (interpretation of the plan of magnetic anomalies); g — boundaries of excavated structures (1, 2, 4, 5, 7 — Sintashta-Petrovka culture; 3, 6 — Srubnaya-Alakul’ culture).

The analysis suggests that the Sintashta-Petrovka societies had a certain degree of social stratification, expressed both in selective funeral rituals and in the significant difference in lifestyle between the elite and the immediate producers of the product. The data obtained during the field study suggest that the elite lived within the fortifications, while a part of the population was outside their borders, on seasonal sites, and also in stationary non-fortified settlements. Probably, traces of winter settlements can be found near the walls, while the search for summer ones is a task of a separate study. From our point of view, the elite of the early complex societies of the Bronze Age of the Eurasian steppe originated as a response to environmental challenges that created risks for cattle farming. The need to adapt the team to the harsh and changing climatic conditions created a precedent in which the settled collectives of pastoralists – hunter-gatherers could afford the content and magnificent posthumous celebration of people and their families who were not engaged in the production or extraction of an immediate product. In turn, representatives of this social group directed their efforts to the adoption of socially significant decisions, the organization of collective labor in the construction of settlement-shelters and risked their lives, acting as military leaders and fighters.

Thus, in Bronze Age steppe societies, the formation, development and decline of social complexity are directly related to the intensity of pastoralism and the development of new territories, where collectives had to survive in part a new ecological niche. At the same time, some members of the collective took upon themselves the organization of the collective’s life, receiving in return a privileged status. As soon as the conditions of the environment and management changed, the need for such functions was virtually eliminated, as a result of which the privileged members of society dissolved into the general mass, having lost their lifetime status and the right to be allocated posthumously.

Also interesting for the MLBA haplogroup bottleneck in the region is the paper by Judd et al. (2017) about fast life history in Early Indo-Iranian territories.

On the arrival of haplogroup N1c1-L392

Regarding the special position of the Chicha-1 samples in the change of diet and economy during the Iron Age, it is by now well known that haplogroup N must have arrived quite late to North-East Europe, and possibly not linked with the expansion of Siberian ancestry – or linked only with some waves of Siberian ancestry in the region, but not all of them. See Lamnidis et al. (2018) for more on this.

Also, the high prevalence of haplogroup N among Fennic and Siberian (Samoyedic) peoples is not related: while the latter reflects probably the native (Palaeo-Siberian) population that acquired their Uralic branch during the MLBA expansions associated with Corded Ware groups, the former points to the expansion of Fennic peoples into Saamic territory (i.e. after the Fenno-Saamic split) as the most likely period of expansion of N1c1-L392 subclades (see known recent bottlenecks among Finns, and on Proto-Finnic dialectalization).

Probably related to these late incomers are the ancient DNA samples from the Sargat culture during the Iron Age, which show the arrival of N subclades in the region, replacing most – but not all – R1a lineages (see Pilipenko et al. (2017)). Regarding the site of Chicha-1, the following are relevant excerpts about the cultural situation that could have allowed for such stepped, diachronic admixture events in Northern Eurasia, from the paper Stages in the settlement history of Chicha-1: The Results of ceramic analysis, by Molodin et al. (2008):

The stratigraphic data allows us to make the following inference: originally, the settlement was inhabited by people bearing the Late Irmen culture. Later, the people of the Baraba trend of the Suzgun culture arrived at the site (Molodin, Chemyakina, 1984: 40–62). The Baraba-Suzgun pottery demonstrates features similar to what has been reported from the sites of the transitional Bronze to Iron Age culture in the pre-taiga and taiga zones in the Irtysh basin (Potemkina, Korochkova, Stefanov, 1995; Polevodov, 2003). The major morphological types are slightly and well-profiled pots with a short throat. (…)

Map showing the location of Chicha-1.

During the following stage of development of the site, the Chicha population increased with people who practiced cultures others than those noted in earlier collections. The ceramic materials from layer 5 provide data on possible relationships. In addition to migrants from northwestern regions practicing the Suzgun culture, there were people bearing the Krasnoozerka culture. Available data also suggests that people from the northern taiga region with the Atlym culture visited the site.

However, people from the west and southwest represent the greatest migration to the region under study. In all likelihood they moved from the northern forest-steppe zone of modern Kazakhstan and practiced the Berlik culture. The spatial distribution analysis of the Chicha-1 site suggests that the Berlik population was rather large. The Berlik people formed a single settlement with the indigenous Late Irmen people and apparently waged certain common economic activities, but preserved their own ethnic and cultural specificity (Molodin, Parzinger, 2006: 49–55). Judging by the data on the chronological sequence of deposited artifacts, migration took place roughly synchronously, hence Chicha-1 became a real cultural and economic center.

(…) In sum, the noted distribution of ceramics over the culture-bearing horizons suggests that beginning with layer 5, traditions of ceramic manufacture described above were practiced, hence the relevant population inhabited the site. Apparently, there were two predominant traditions: the local Late Irmen cultural tradition and the Berlik tradition, which was brought by the immigrants. The Late Irmen people mostly populated the citadel, while the Berlik immigrants inhabited the areas to the east and the north of the citadel.

The stratigraphic data also suggest that the Early Sargat ceramics emerged at the site likely as a part of the Late Irmen tradition (…) Early Sargat ceramics is apparently linked with the Late Irmen tradition. Artifacts associated with the Sargat culture proper have been found in several areas of Chicha-1 (e.g., in excavation area 16). However, the Sargat people appeared at the site after it had been abandoned by its previous inhabitants, and had eventually become completely desolated. This happened no earlier than the 6th cent. BC, possibly in the 5th cent. BC (in fact, the radiocarbon dates for that horizon are close to the turn of the Christian era).


BMAC: long term interaction between agricultural communities and steppe pastoralists in Central Asia


Interesting new paper Mixing metaphors: sedentary-mobile interactions and local-global connections in prehistoric Turkmenistan, by Rouse & Cerasetti, Antiquity (2018) 92:674-689.

Relevant excerpts (emphasis mine):

The Murghab alluvial fan in southern Turkmenistan witnessed some of the earliest encounters between sedentary farmers and mobile pastoralists from different cultural spheres. During the late third and early second millennia BC, the Murghab was home to the Oxus civilisation and formed a central node in regional exchange networks (Possehl 2005; Kohl 2007). The Oxus civilisation (or the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex) relied on intensive agriculture to support a hierarchical society and specialised craft production of metal and precious stone objects for prestige display and long-distance exchange (Sarianidi 1981; Hiebert 1994). By c. 1800 BC (the local Late Bronze Age), the internal coherence of the Oxus civilisation began to break down, along with the inter-regional exchange networks; the settlement structure of the Murghab shifted from a tiered system of urban centres, villages and hamlets, to a more dispersed pattern of smaller-scale agricultural settlements (Salvatori 2008). Contemporaneous evidence for small campsites (with a distinct ceramic tradition) suggests an influx of mobile pastoralists from the Central Eurasian Steppe and foothills (Cerasetti 1998; Masson 2002; Cattani et al. 2008). This striking combination of the sites and material cultures of both late Oxus farmers and ‘steppe’ pastoralists spans more than 500 years of Murghab prehistory (Salvatori 2008; Rouse & Cerasetti 2017).

The mixed farmer-pastoralist archaeological record of the Murghab has influenced competing interpretations of Later Bronze Age socio-political and economic relationships. Some scholars argue that the ‘collapse’ of the Oxus civilisation was at least partly due to the hostile incursions of nomads (Marushchenko 1956; Kuz’mina&Lyapin 1984; Vinogradova & Kuz’mina 1996). Others suggest that pastoralists took advantage of the Murghab’s crumbling power structure by moving into the area, but occupying only marginal, agriculturally unsuitable zones (P’yankova 1993), or merging with the late Oxus farming populations (Masson 2002). These models broadly follow ‘trade or raid’ paradigms of farmer-pastoralist interaction, whereby the perceived shortages of pastoralist communities force them to rely on agriculturalists for subsistence, material and cultural inputs (Kroeber 1947; Ferdinand 2003; Potts 2014). Such models may explain certain cases of Near Eastern pastoral economic specialisation, or historical contact scenarios between Eurasian steppe and agricultural communities on China’s northern frontier (Lattimore 1979; Barfield 2001; Alizadeh 2009; Khazanov 2009). Near Eastern and Eurasian interaction paradigms, however, fit increasingly poorly with the archaeological evidence for early farmer-pastoralist encounters in southern Central Asia.

We present data from four Murghab pastoralist campsites dating to the third to second millennia BC, restricting our discussion to the materials and practices employed by Oxus-period pastoralists to navigate shifting social, political and economic networks. Our aim is to highlight how variable strategies broadly identified under the rubric of ‘agropastoralism’ can be teased apart to recognise mechanisms of social boundary-making. Individually, these four sites present chronologically and locally distinct snapshots of farmer-pastoralist interactions across different realms of exchange (e.g. subsistence, technology and ideology); they provide examples of how pastoralists and farmers mutually participated in each other’s material and social norms. Together, these sites reveal how varied farmer-pastoralist engagement with technology and material culture did not lead inevitably to the assimilation of the two groups; rather, they worked consciously within existing systems of cultural practice to maintain distinct ‘farmer’ and ‘pastoralist’ identities, potentially over a 900-year period.

Region of Central Asia as discussed in this article. Areas traditionally identified with farming-dependent Oxus communities and non-Oxus mobile pastoralists are shown, acknowledging that in both areas mixed agropastoral practices have occurred in the past and present.


(…)First, the results indicate a cultural model of ‘being’ a pastoralist that was maintained actively over hundreds of years, in part by its material difference from that of local farmers. Second, the variability of materials, technologies and practices shared at these campsites suggests that no hegemonic power controlled trade relationships or regulated economic dependency between Oxus farmers and non-Oxus mobile pastoralists in the Murghab. Indeed, current data indicate that pastoralist occupation in the Murghab intensified during the waning of Oxus political centralisation, suggesting that the loosening of state-level structures provided the opportunity for intercultural interactions, rather than interactions being promoted or facilitated from the top. Finally, in the removal of broad-brush narratives that polarise ‘the steppe’ and ‘the sown’, and the integration of evidence suggesting that mobile pastoralists influenced the crop systems of farmers in southern Central Asia (Spengler et al. 2014b), these four sites allow us to recognise the means by which farmers and pastoralists re-shaped cultural institutions while reinforcing the meaningfulness of the associated social categories. Current work in the Murghab complements detailed studies of pastoralists in other Eurasian contexts (e.g. Frachetti 2008; Rogers 2012; Honeychurch 2015) in beginning to unravel simplistic notions of broad cross-cultural exchanges in Eurasian prehistory and the political entities traditionally seen as directing them.

The whole article is very interesting, and the four sites studied and their relevance for the said interactions are described in detail, and in chronological order. If you have the opportunity, read it.

I found it interesting that the article mentions the traditional scholarly opposition of agriculturalists vs. pastoralists (‘civilised/barbarian’, ‘state/tribe’ and ‘centre/periphery’) as an idea of Eurasian origin, and having deep ‘Western’ roots. Reading what many OIT (or anti-AIT, as they like to call themselves) supporters write, it seems to me as though they have entirely accepted and in fact are eager to promote this ‘Western’ narrative from the mid-20th century…

Steppe MLBA

This is what Narasimhan et al. (2018) had to say about the BMAC – Steppe pastoralists interaction:

We document a southward spread of genetic ancestry from the Eurasian Steppe, correlating with the archaeologically known expansion of pastoralist sites from the Steppe to Turan in the Middle Bronze Age (2300-1500 BCE). These Steppe communities mixed genetically with peoples of the Bactria Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC) whom they encountered in Turan (primarily descendants of earlier agriculturalists of Iran), but there is no evidence that the main BMAC population contributed genetically to later South Asians. Instead, Steppe communities integrated farther south throughout the 2nd millennium BCE, and we show that they mixed with a more southern population that we document at multiple sites as outlier individuals exhibiting a distinctive mixture of ancestry related to Iranian agriculturalists and South Asian hunter-gathers.

Narasimhan et al. (2018): “Modeling results.(A) Admixture events originating from 7 “Distal” populations leading 538 to the formation of the modern Indian cloud shown geographically. Clines or 2-way mixtures of 539 ancestry are shown in rectangles, and clouds (3-way mixtures) are shown in ellipses.

(…) The absence in the BMAC cluster of the Steppe_EMBA ancestry that is ubiquitous in South Asia today—along with qpAdm analyses that rule out BMAC as a substantial source of ancestry in South Asia (Fig. 3A)—suggests that while the BMAC was affected by the same demographic forces that later impacted South Asia (the southward movement of Middle to Late Bronze Age Steppe pastoralists described in the next section), it was also bypassed by members of these groups who hardly mixed with BMAC people and instead mixed with peoples further south. In fact, the data suggest that instead of the main BMAC population having a demographic impact on South Asia, there was a larger effect of gene flow in the reverse direction, as the main BMAC genetic cluster is slightly different from the preceding Turan populations in harboring ~5% of their ancestry from the AASI.

(…)between 2100-1700 BCE, we observe BMAC outliers from three sites with Steppe_EMBA ancestry in the admixed form typically carried by the later Middle to Late Bronze Age Steppe groups (Steppe_MLBA). This documents a southward movement of Steppe ancestry through this region that only began to have a major impact around the turn of the 2nd millennium BCE.