Sea Peoples behind Philistines were Aegeans, including R1b-M269 lineages

New open access paper Ancient DNA sheds light on the genetic origins of early Iron Age Philistines, by Feldman et al. Science Advances (2019) 5(7):eaax0061.

Interesting excerpts (modified for clarity, emphasis mine):

Here, we report genome-wide data from human remains excavated at the ancient seaport of Ashkelon, forming a genetic time series encompassing the Bronze to Iron Age transition. We find that all three Ashkelon populations derive most of their ancestry from the local Levantine gene pool. The early Iron Age population was distinct in its high genetic affinity to European-derived populations and in the high variation of that affinity, suggesting that a gene flow from a European-related gene pool entered Ashkelon either at the end of the Bronze Age or at the beginning of the Iron Age. Of the available contemporaneous populations, we model the southern European gene pool as the best proxy for this incoming gene flow. Last, we observe that the excess European affinity of the early Iron Age individuals does not persist in the later Iron Age population, suggesting that it had a limited genetic impact on the long-term population structure of the people in Ashkelon.

philistines-pca
Ancient genomes (marked with color-filled symbols) projected onto the principal components inferred from present-day west Eurasians (gray circles). The newly reported Ashkelon populations are annotated in the upper corner.

Genetic discontinuity between the Bronze Age and the early Iron Age people of Ashkelon

In comparison to ASH_LBA, the four ASH_IA1 individuals from the following Iron Age I period are, on average, shifted along PC1 toward the European cline and are more spread out along PC1, overlapping with ASH_LBA on one extreme and with the Greek Late Bronze Age “S_Greece_LBA” on the other. Similarly, genetic clustering assigns ASH_IA1 with an average of 14% contribution from a cluster maximized in the Mesolithic European hunter-gatherers labeled “WHG” (shown in blue in Fig. 2B) (15, 22, 26). This component is inferred only in small proportions in earlier Bronze Age Levantine populations (2 to 9%).

In agreement with the PCA and ADMIXTURE results, only European hunter-gatherers (including WHG) and populations sharing a history of genetic admixture with European hunter-gatherers (e.g., as European Neolithic and post-Neolithic populations) produced significantly positive f4-statistics (Z ≥ 3), suggesting that, compared to ASH_LBA, ASH_IA1 has additional European-related ancestry.

We find that the PC1 coordinates positively correlate with the proportion of WHG ancestry modeled in the Ashkelon individuals, suggesting that WHG reasonably tag a European-related ancestral component within the ASH_IA1 individuals.

philistines-admixture
We plot the ancestral proportions of the Ashkelon individuals inferred by qpAdm using Iran_ChL, Levant_ChL, and WHG as sources ±1 SEs. P values are annotated under each model. In cases when the three-way model failed (χ2P < 0.05), we plot the fitting two-way model. The WHG ancestry is necessary only in ASH_IA1.

The best supported one (χ2P = 0.675) infers that ASH_IA1 derives around 43% of ancestry from the Greek Bronze Age “Crete_Odigitria_BA” (43.1 ± 19.2%) and the rest from the ASH_LBA population.

(…) only the models including “Sardinian,” “Crete_Odigitria_BA,” or “Iberia_BA” as the candidate population provided a good fit (χ2P = 0.715, 49.3 ± 8.5%; χ2P = 0.972, 38.0 ± 22.0%; and χ2P = 0.964, 25.8 ± 9.3%, respectively). We note that, because of geographical and temporal sampling gaps, populations that potentially contributed the “European-related” admixture in ASH_IA1 could be missing from the dataset.

The transient impact of the “European-related” gene flow on the Ashkelon gene pool

The ASH_IA2 individuals are intermediate along PC1 between the ASH_LBA ones and the earlier Bronze Age Levantines (Jordan_EBA/Lebanon_MBA) in the west Eurasian PCA (Fig. 2A). Notably, despite being chronologically closer to ASH_IA1, the ASH_IA2 individuals position closer, on average, to the earlier Bronze Age individuals.

philistines-y-dna
See more information on Y-DNA SNP calls, including ASH067 as R1b-M269 (xL151).

The transient excess of European-related genetic affinity in ASH_IA1 can be explained by two scenarios. The early Iron Age European-related genetic component could have been diluted by either the local Ashkelon population to the undetectable level at the time of the later Iron Age individuals or by a gene flow from a population outside of Ashkelon introduced during the final stages of the early Iron Age or the beginning of the later Iron Age.

By modeling ASH_IA2 as a mixture of ASH_IA1 and earlier Bronze Age Levantines/Late Period Egyptian, we infer a range of 7 to 38% of contribution from ASH_IA1, although no contribution cannot be rejected because of the limited resolution to differentiate between Bronze Age and early Iron Age ancestries in this model.

Hg. R1b-M269 and the Aegean

I already predicted this relationship of Philistines and Aegeans (Greeks in particular) months ago, based on linguistics, archaeology, and phylogeography, although it was (and still is) yet unclear if these paternal lineages might have come from other nearby populations which might be descended from Common Anatolians instead, given the known intense contacts between Helladic and West Anatolian groups.

luwian-civilization-sea-peoples
The alternative view: The Sea Peoples can be traced back to the Aegean, so they could also have consisted of Luwian petty kingdoms, who had formed an alliance and attacked Hatti from the south.

The deduction process for the Greek connection was quite simple:

Palaeo-Balkan populations

We know that R1b-Z2103 expanded with Yamna, including West Yamna settlers: they appear in Vučedol, which means they formed part of the earliest expansion waves of Yamna settlers into the Carpathian Basin, and they also appear scattered among Bell Beakers (apart from dominating East Yamna and Afanasevo), which suggests that they were possibly one of the most successful lineages during the late Repin/early Yamna expansion.

The “Steppe ancestry” associated with I2a-L699 samples among Balkan BA peoples may have also been associated with recent Bronze Age expansions, and this haplogroup’s presence among modern Balkan peoples may also suggest that it expanded with Palaeo-Balkan languages. Nevertheless, we don’t know which specific lineages and “Steppe ancestry” they represent, sadly.

These samples may well be related to remnants of previous Balkan populations like Cernavodă or Ezero, because there has been no peer-reviewed attempt at distinguishing Khvalynsk-/Novodanilovka- from Sredni Stog- from Yamnaya-related populations (see here), and some groups that are associated with this ancestry, like Corded Ware, are known to be culturally distinct from Yamna.

In any case, Proto-Greeks from the southern Balkans (say, Sitagroi IV and related groups) are probably going to show, based on Palaeo-Balkan substrate and Pre-Greek substrate and on the available Mycenaean samples, a process of decreasing proportion of R1b-Z2103 lineages relative to local ones, and a relatively similar cline of Yamna:EEF ancestry from northern to southern areas, at least in the periods closest to the Yamna expansion.

NOTE. The finding of “archaic” R1b-L389 (R1b-V1636) and R1a-M198 subclades among modern Greeks and the likely Neolithic origin of these paternal lineages around the Caucasus suggest that their presence in Greece may be from any of the more recent migrations that have happened between Anatolia and the Balkans, especially during the Common Era, rather than Indo-Anatolian migrations; probably very very recently.

-chalcolithic-late-balkans
Bronze Age cultures in the Balkans and the Aegean. See full map including ancient samples with Y-DNA, mtDNA, and ADMIXTURE.

Minoans and haplogroup J

In the Aegean, it is already evident that the population changed language partly through cultural diffusion, probably through elite domination of Proto-Greek speakers. Whether that happened before the invasion into the Greek Peninsula or after it is unclear, as we discussed recently, because we only have one reported Y-chromosome haplogroup among Mycenaeans, and it is J (probably continuing earlier lineages).

Now we have more samples from the so-called Emporion 2 cluster in Olalde et al. (2019), which shows Mycenaean-like eastern Mediterranean ancestry and 3 (out of 3) samples of haplogroup J, which – given the origin of the colony in Phocea – may be interpreted as the prevalence of West Anatolian-like ancestry and lineages in the eastern part of the Aegean (and possibly thus south Peloponnese), in line with the modern situation.

NOTE. It does not seem likely that those R or R1b-L23 samples from the Emporion 1 cluster are R1b-Z2103, based on their West European-like ancestry, although they still may be, because – as we know – ancestry (unlike haplogroup) changes too easily to interpret it as an ancestral ethnolinguistic marker.

anatolia-greek-aegean
PCA of ancient samples related to the Aegean, with Minoans, Mycenaeans (including the Emporion 2 cluster in the background) Anatolia N-Ch.-BA and Levantine BA-LBA populations, including Tel Shadud samples. See more PCAs of ancient Eurasian populations.

Greeks and haplogroup R1b-M269

Therefore, while the presence of R1b-Z2103 among ancient Balkan peoples connected to the Yamna expansion is clear, one might ask if R1b-Z2103 really spread up to the Peloponnese by the time of the Mycenaean Civilization. That has only one indirect answer, and it’s most likely yes.

We already had some R1b-Z2103 among Thracians and around the Armenoid homeland, which offers another clue at the migration of these lineages from the Balkans. The distribution of different “archaic” R1b-Z2103 subclades among modern Balkan populations and around the Aegean offered more support to this conclusion.

But now we have two interesting ancient populations that bear witness to the likely intrusion of R1b-M269 with Proto-Greeks:

An Ancient Greek of hg. R1b

A single ancient sample supports the increase in R1b-Z2103 among Greeks during the “Dorian” invasions that triggered the Dark Ages and the phenomenon of the Aegean Sea Peoples. It comes from a Greek lab study, showing R1b1b (i.e. R1b-P297 in the old nomenclature) as the only Y-chromosome haplogroup obtained from the sampling of the Gulf of Amurakia ca. 470-30 BC, i.e. before the Roman foundation of Nikopolis, hence from people likely from Anaktorion in Ancient Acarnania, of Corinthian origin.

ancient-greeks-y-dna-mtdna

Even with the few data available – and with the caution necessary for this kind of studies from non-established labs, which may be subject to many different kinds of errors – one could argue that the western Greek areas, which received different waves of migrants from the north and shows a higher distribution of R1b-Z2103 in modern times, was probably more heavily admixed with R1b-Z2103 than southern and eastern areas, which were always dominated by Greek-speaking populations more heavily admixed with locals.

The Dorian invasion and the Greek Dark Ages may thus account for a renewed influx of R1b-Z2103 lineages accompanying the dialects that would eventually help form the Hellenic Koiné. In a sense, it is only natural that demographically stronger populations around the Bronze Age Aegean would suffer a limited (male) population replacement with the succeeding invasions, starting with a higher genetic impact in the north-west and diminishing as they progressed to the south and the east, coupled with stepped admixture events with local populations.

This would be therefore the late equivalent of what happened at the end of the 3rd millennium BC, with Mycenaeans and their genetic continuity with Minoans.

pre-greek-ssos
Distribution of Pre-Greek place-names ending in -ssos/-ssa or -sos/-sa. See original images and more on the south/east cline distribution of Pre-Greek place-names here.

Sea peoples of hg. R1b-M269

Thanks to Wang et al. (2018) supplementary materials we knew that one of the two Levantine LBA II samples from Tel Shadud (final 13th–early 11th c. BC) published in van den Brink (2017) was of hg. R1b-M269 – in fact, the one interpreted as a Canaanite official residing at this site and emulating selected funerary aspects of Egyptian mortuary culture.

Both analyzed samples, this elite individual and a commoner of hg. J buried nearby, were genetically similar and indistinguishable from local populations, though:

Principal Components Analysis of L112 and L126 was carried out within the framework described in Lazaridis et al. (2016). This analysis showed that the two individuals cluster genetically, with similar estimated proportions of ancestry from diverse West Eurasian ancestral sources. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that they derive from the same population, or alternatively that they derive from two quite closely related populations.

We know that ancestry changes easily within a few generations, so there was not much information to go on, except for the fact that – being R1b-M269 – this individual could trace his paternal ancestor at some point to Proto-Indo-Europeans.

One might think that, because many haplogroups in this spreadsheet were wrong, this is also wrong; nevertheless, many haplogroups are correctly identified by Yleaf, and finding R1b-M269 in the Levant after the expansion of Sea Peoples could not be that surprising, because they were most likely related to populations of the Aegean Sea. Any other related hg. R1b (R1b-M73, R1b-V88, even R1b-V1636) wouldn’t fit as well as R1b-M269.

sea-peoples-egypt-rameses-iii

However, the early expansion of Proto-Indo-Aryans into the Middle East, as well as the later expansion of Armenians from the Balkans through Anatolia and of West Iranians from the east may have all potentially been related to this sample. But still, the previous linguistic and archaeological theories concerning the Philistines and the expansion of Sea Peoples in the Levant made this sample a likely (originally) Greek “Dorian” lineage, rather than the other (increasingly speculative) alternatives.

In any case, it was obvious to anyone – that is, to anyone with a minimum knowledge of how population genomics works – that just the two samples from van den Brink (2017) couldn’t be used to get to any conclusions about the ancestral origin of these individuals (or their differences) beyond Levantine peoples, because their ancestry was essentially (i.e. statistically) the same as the other few available ancient samples from nearby regions and similar periods.

If anything, the PCA suggested an origin of the R1b sample closer to Aegean populations relative to the J individual (see PCA above), and this should have been supported also by amateur models, without any possible confirmation (as with the ASH_IA2 cluster in this paper). However, if you have followed online discussions of Tel Shadud R1b-M269 sample since it was mentioned first on Eupedia months ago – including another wave of misguided speculation based on the ancestry of both individuals triggered by a discussion on this blog -, you have once more proof of how misleading ancestry analyses can be in the wrong hands.

NOTE. This is the Nth proof (and that only in 2019) of how it’s best to just avoid amateur analyses and interpretations altogether, as I did in the recent publication of the books. All those who didn’t take into account whatever was commented about the ancestry of these samples haven’t lost a single bit of relevant information on Levantine peoples, and have had more time for useful reads, compared to those dedicated to endless void speculation, once again gone awfully wrong, as does everything related to cocky ancient DNA crackpottery 😉

bronze-age-late-aegean
Late Bronze Age population movements in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. See full map including ancient DNA samples with Y-DNA, mtDNA, and ADMIXTURE.

Admittedly, though, even accepting the evident Mediterranean origin of this lineage, one could have argued that this sample may have been of R1b-L151 subclade, if one were inclined to support the theory that Italic peoples were behind Sea Peoples expanding east – and consequently that the ancestors of Etruscans had migrated eastward into the Aegean (e.g. into Lemnos), so that it could be asserted that Tyrsenian might have been a remnant language of an ancient population of northern Italy.

Philistines

Fortunately, some of the samples recovered in Feldman et al. (2019) that could be analyzed (those of the cluster ASH_IA1) offer a very specific time frame where European ancestry appeared (ca. 1250 BC) before it subsequently became fully diluted (as seen in cluster ASH_IA2) among the prevalent Levantine ancestry of the area.

Also fortunately, this precise cluster shows another R1b-M269 sample, likely R1b-Z2103 (because it is probably xL151), and this sample together with others from the same cluster prove that the ancestry related to the original southern European incomers was:

  1. Recent, related thus to LBA population movements, as expected; and
  2. More closely related to coeval Aegeans, including Mycenaeans with Steppe-related ancestry.

NOTE. I say “fortunately” because, as you can imagine if you have dealt with amateurish discussions long enough, without this cluster with evident Aegean ancestry and the R1b-M269 (Z2103) sample precisely associated to it, some would enter again in endless comment loops created by ancestry magicians, showing how Aegean peoples were not behind Sea Peoples, or not behind Philistines, or not behind the R1b-M269 among Philistines, depending on their specific agendas.

aegean-sea-peoples
Map of the Sea People invasions in the Aegean Sea and Eastern Mediterranean at the end of the Late Bronze Age (blue arrows).. Some of the major cities impacted by the raids are denoted with historical dates. Inland invasions are represented by purple arrows. From Kaniewski et al. (2011). Some of the major cities impacted by the raids are denoted with historical dates. Inland invasions are represented by purple arrows.

The results of the paper don’t solve the question of the exact origin of all Sea Peoples (not even that of Philistines), but it is quite clear that most of those forming this seafaring confederation must have come from sites around the Aegean Sea. This supports thus the traditional origin attributed to them, including a hint at the likely expansion of Eastern Mediterranean ancestry and lineages into the Italian Peninsula precisely from the Aegean, as some oral communications have already disclosed.

As an indirect conclusion from the findings in this paper, then, we can now more confidently support that Tyrsenian speakers most likely expanded into the Appenines and the Alps originally from a Tyrsenian-speaking LBA population from Lemnos, due to the social unrest in the whole Aegean region, and might have become heavily admixed with local Italic peoples quite quickly, as it happened with Philistines, resulting in yet another case of language expansion through (the simplistically called) elite domination.

Conclusion

Even more interesting than these specific findings, this paper confirms yet another hypothesis based on phylogeography, and proves once again two important starting points for ancient DNA interpretation that I have discussed extensively in this blog:

  • The rare R1b-M269 Y-chromosome lineage of Tel Shadud offered ipso facto the most relevant clue about the ancestral geographical origin of this Canaanite elite male’s paternal family, most likely from the north-west based on ancient phylogeography, which indirectly – in combination with linguistics and archaeology – supported the ancestral ethnolinguistic identification of Philistines with the Aegean and thus with (a population closest to) Ancient Greeks.
  • Ancestry analyses are often fully unreliable when assessing population movements, especially when few samples from incomplete temporal-geographical transects are assessed in isolation, because – unlike paternal (and maternal) haplogroups – ancestry might change fully within a few generations, depending on the particular anthropological setting. Their investigation is thus bound by many limitations – of design, statistical, and anthropological (i.e. archaeological and linguistic) – which are quite often not taken into account.

These cornerstones of ancient DNA interpretation have been already demonstrated to be valid not only for Levantine populations, as in this case, but also for Balkan peoples, for Bell Beakers, for steppe populations (like Khvalynsk, Sredni Stog, Yamna, Corded Ware), for Basques, for Balto-Slavs, for Ugrians and Samoyeds, and for many other prehistoric peoples.

I rest my case.

Related

“Steppe people seem not to have penetrated South Asia”

indo-iranian-sintashta-uralic-migrations

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.

INTRODUCTION
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.

RATIONALE
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.

damgaard-south-asia
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.

RESULTS
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.

CONCLUSION
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.

Related

How an empire of steppe nomads coped with environmental stress

uyghur-empire

Recent paper (behind paywall), Environmental Stress and Steppe Nomads: Rethinking the History of the Uyghur Empire (744–840) with Paleoclimate Data, by Di Cosmo et al. JINH (2018) XLVIII(4):439-463.

Abstract (emphasis mine):

Newly available paleoclimate data and a re-evaluation of the historical and archaeological evidence regarding the Uyghur Empire (744–840)—one of several nomadic empires to emerge on the Inner Asian steppe—suggests that the assumption of a direct causal link between drought and the stability of nomadic societies is not always justified. The fact that a severe drought lasting nearly seven decades did not cause the Uyghur Empire to collapse, to wage war, or to disintegrate gives rise to speculations about which of its characteristics enabled it to withstand unfavorable climatic conditions and environmental change. More broadly, it raises questions about the complex suite of strategies and responses that may have been available to steppe societies in the face of environmental stress.

Interesting excerpts:

The heart of the matter is whether the apparent capacity to withstand adverse climatic conditions was due to a set of cultural and/or political choices, unrelated to climate, or to a modification of their nomadic ways toward a greater reliance on agriculture and trade. In support of the first alternative, the Uyghur Empire’s initial military rise and expansion (c. 744 to 780) may have been aided by conditions of high moisture that would have made the grasslands especially productive. The alliance with China, the conversion to Manichaeism, and the growing incorporation of Sogdian elites in their empire that took place during this period may have aided the Uyghurs, serendipitously, to withstand the climatic crisis. In the long run, however, some areas of society most likely suffered adverse effects, which might explain the internal splits and the final defeat at the hands of the Kirgiz. These developments owe as much to the sedentary habits of the Uyghur elites and their ineffective leadership as to the erosion of the pastoral resources that constituted the main support of a nomadic army.

uyghur-climate
The findings are based on scPDSI reconstructions at 0.5-degree grid derived from tree
ring records across Asia.

The evidence from tree-ring data points to environmental conditions that alter the historical narrative of the rise and fall of the Uyghur Empire. Although several studies have focused on how climatic extremes affected agricultural societies, the fate of complex nomadic societies did not necessarily follow the same path. Steppe empires, at least from the first Türk Empire (established in the sixth century C.E.), and possibly earlier, were based on expansive geographical networks, diversified economies, and a degree of co-dependency with merchant classes. Even though these elements varied greatly between empires, they probably reacted to climatic variability in ways radically different from the ways in which agricultural and urban polities did. Once we account for socio-economic complexity, the case of the Uyghur Empire belies the general assumption that nomadic peoples are more vulnerable to climatic stress. The severe and protracted drought did not trigger migration, pillaging, or conquest. Sudden shocks, however, could have had a devastating effect on an economy already weakened.

The catastrophic event of the winter of 839/40, which appears to be a dzud (a weather condition of extreme cold and heavy snowfall that causes high animal mortality) was likely the coup de grâce to an already compromised pastoral production. Contemporary studies of the dzud emphasize that the degree of calamity of the winter disaster is closely related to the drought conditions that preceded it. Thus, the collapse of the Uyghur Empire, generally understood as a rapidly evolving political crisis compounded by a catastrophic weather event, is also connected to multidecadal climatic change, dependency mechanisms, and geopolitical constraints.

I found it interesting mainly because of the potential application of this kind of studies to other previous steppe societies.

Discovered via news on Sapiens.org, posted by Spencer Wells.

Related:

Neolithic and Bronze Age Basque-speaking Iberians resisted invaders from the steppe

gaul-asterix

Good clickbait, right? I have received reports about this new paper in Google Now the whole weekend, and their descriptions are getting worse each day.

The original title of the article published in PLOS Genetics (already known by its preprint in BioRxiv) was The population genomics of archaeological transition in west Iberia: Investigation of ancient substructure using imputation and haplotype-based methods, by Martiniano et al. (2017).

Maybe the title was not attractive enough, so they sent the following summary, entitled “Bronze Age Iberia received fewer Steppe invaders than the rest of Europe” (also in Phys.org. From their article, the only short reference to the linguistic situation of Iberia (as a trial to sum up potential consequences of the genetic data obtained):

Iberia is unusual in harbouring a surviving pre-Indo-European language, Euskera, and inscription evidence at the dawn of history suggests that pre-Indo-European speech prevailed over a majority of its eastern territory with Celtic-related language emerging in the west. Our results showing that predominantly Anatolian-derived ancestry in the Neolithic extended to the Atlantic edge strengthen the suggestion that Euskara is unlikely to be a Mesolithic remnant. Also our observed definite, but limited, Bronze Age influx resonates with the incomplete Indo-European linguistic conversion on the peninsula, although there are subsequent genetic changes in Iberia and defining a horizon for language shift is not yet possible. This contrasts with northern Europe which both lacks evidence for earlier language strata and experienced a more profound Bronze Age migration.

Judging from the article, more precise summaries of potential consequences would have been “Proto-Basque and Proto-Iberian peoples derived from Neolithic farmers, not Mesolithic or Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers”, or “incomplete Indo-European linguistic conversion of the Iberian Peninsula” – both aspects, by the way, are already known. That would have been quite unromantic, though.

Their carefully selected title has been unsurprisingly distorted at least as “Ancient DNA Reveals Why the Iberian Peninsula Is So Unique“, and “Ancient Iberians resisted Steppe invasions better than the rest of Europe 6,000 years ago“.

So I thought, what the hell, let’s go with the tide. Using the published dataset, I have also helped reconstruct the original phenotype of Bronze Age Iberians, and this is how our Iberian ancestors probably looked like:

Typical Iberian village during the Steppe invasion, according to my phenotype study of Martiniano et al. (2017). Notice typical invaders to the right.

And, by the way, they spoke Basque, the oldest language. Period.

Now, for those new to the article, we already knew that there is less “steppe admixture” in Iberian samples from southern Portugal after the time of east Bell Beaker expansion.

portugal-bronze-age-admixture
(A) PCA estimated from the CHROMOPAINTER coancestry matrix of 67 ancient samples ranging from the Paleolithic to the Anglo-Saxon period. The samples belonging to each one of the 19 populations identified with fineSTRUCTURE are connected by a dashed line. Samples are placed geographically in 3 panels (with random jitter for visual purposes): (B) Hunter-gatherers; (C) Neolithic Farmers (including Ötzi) and (D) Copper Age to Anglo-Saxon samples. The Portuguese Bronze Age samples (D, labelled in red) formed a distinct population (Portuguese_BronzeAge), while the Middle and Late Neolithic samples from Portugal clustered with Spanish, Irish and Scandinavian Neolithic farmers, which are termed “Atlantic_Neolithic” (C, in green).

However, there is also a clear a discontinuity in Neolithic Y-DNA haplogroups (to R1b-P312 haplogroups). That means obviously a male-driven invasion, from the North-West Indo-European-speaking Bell Beaker culture – which in turn did not have much “steppe admixture” compared to other north-eastern cultures, like the Corded Ware culture, probably unrelated to Indo-European languages.

portugal-bronze-age-haplogroup
Summary of the samples sequenced in the present study.

As always, trying to equate steppe or Yamna admixture with invasion or language is plainly wrong. Doing it with few samples, and with the wrong assumptions of what “steppe admixture” means, well…

Proto-Basque and Proto-Iberian no doubt survived the Indo-European Bell Beaker migrations, but if Y-DNA lineages were replaced already by the Bronze Age in southern Portugal, there is little reason to support an increased “resistance” of Iberians to Bell Beaker invaders compared to other marginal regions of Europe (relative to the core Yamna expansion in eastern and central Europe).

As you know, Aquitanian (the likely ancestor of Basque) and Iberian were just two of the many non-Indo-European languages spoken in Europe at the dawn of historical records, so to speak about Iberia as radically different than Italy, Greece, Northern Britain, Scandinavia, or Eastern Europe, is reminiscent of the racism (or, more exactly, xenophobia) that is hidden behind romantic views certain people have of their genetic ancestry.

Some groups formed by a majority of R1b-DF27 lineages, now prevalent in Iberia, spoke probably Iberian languages during the Iron Age in north and eastern Iberia, before their acculturation during the expansion of Celtic-speaking peoples, and later during the expansion of Rome, when most of them eventually spoke Latin. In Mediaeval times, these lineages probably expanded Romance languages southward during the Reconquista.

Before speaking Iberian languages, R1b-DF27 lineages (or older R1b-P312) were probably Indo-European speakers who expanded with the Bell Beaker culture from the lower Danube – in turn created by the interaction of Yamna with Proto-Bell Beaker cultures, and adopted probably the native Proto-Basque and Proto-Iberian languages (or possibly the ancestor of both) near the Pyrenees, either by acculturation, or because some elite invaders expanded successfully (their Y-DNA haplogroup) over the general population, for generations.

Maybe some kind of genetic bottleneck happened, that expanded previously not widespread lineages, as with N1c subclades in Finland.

There is nothing wrong with hypothetic models of ancient genetic prehistory: there are still too many potential scenarios for the expansion of haplogroup R1b-DF27 in Iberia. But, please, stop supporting romantic pictures of ethnolinguistic continuity for modern populations. It’s embarrassing.


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