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


The Pazyryk culture spoke a “Uralic-Altaic” language… because haplogroup N

Matrilineal and patrilineal genetic continuity of two iron age individuals from a Pazyryk culture burial, by Tikhonov, Gurkan, Peler, & Dyakonov, Int J Hum Genet (2019).

Relevant excerpts (emphasis mine):

Of particular interest to the current study are the archaeogenetic investigations associated with the exemplary mound 1 from the Ak-Alakha-1 site on the Ukok Plateau in the Altai Republic (Polosmak 1994a; Pilipenko et al. 2015). This typical Pazyryk “frozen grave” was dated around 2268±39 years before present (Bln-4977) (Gersdorff and Parzinger 2000). Initial anthropological findings suggested an undisturbed dual inhumation comprising “a middle-aged European- type man” and “a young European-type woman”, both of whom presumably had a high social status among the Pazyryk elite (Polosmak 1994a). In contrast, recent archaeogenetic investigations revealed somewhat contradicting results since analyses at both the amelogenin gene and Y-chromosome short tandem repeat (Y-STR) loci clearly established that both Scythians were actually males and had paternal and maternal lineages that are typically associated with eastern Eurasians (Pilipenko et al. 2015). Through the use of mitochondrial, autosomal and Y-chromosomal DNA typing systems, it was possible to not only investigate the potential relationships between the two ancient Scythians but also to gather initial phylogenetic and phylogeographic information on their paternal and maternal lineages (Pilipenko et al. 2015).

Based on the Y-STR data available, the two Ak-Alakha-1 Scythians had an in silico haplogroup assignment of N, which first appeared in southeastern Asia and then expanded in southern Siberia (Rootsi et al. 2007; Pilipenko et al. 2015).

Current study aims to investigate the geographical distributions of the ancient and contemporary matches and close genetic variants of the maternal and paternal lineages observed in the two Scythians from the exemplary Ak-Alakha-1 kurgan.

Geographic distribution of the exact matches with the Scythian (PZ1) Y-STR (17-loci) and mtDNA (HVR1) haplotypes detailed in Tables 1a and 1b. Boundaries of the Altai Republic within the Russian Federation are shown with dashed lines, along with an approximate position of the Ak-Alakha-1 burial site, which is denoted with an ‘x’ on the map. Countries shaded in gray refer to those that have full 17-loci Y-STR and/or mtDNA HVR1 match(es) with the PZ1 haplotypes. Inset in the top and bottom left corners are the Altai and Uzbekistan maps, respectively, both scaled-up to allow better representation of the samples derived from these countries. There were no other exact matches from around parts of the globe that are not shown on the map, except for a single contemporary mtDNA haplotype from US, which presumably belonged to an ‘East Asian’ individual. Inset in the top right corner provides a scale for the number of haplotypes observed, but only up to three samples, which is valid for the entire map as well as the inset maps, irrespective of the differences in the scales of the actual map and inset maps themselves. For sample pools larger than three, the same linear scale provided on the inset in the top right corner still applies; please refer to Tables 1a and b for actual sample pool sizes. Samples are depicted on the entire map and the insets maps with circles and diamonds for the Y-STR and mtDNA haplotypes, respectively. Black and white coloring for samples depict whether the haplotype(s) are contemporary or ancient, respectively. Location of the PZ1 mtDNA and Y-STR haplotypes are shown on top of each other.

In response to aggressive Xiongnu expansion into the Altai region around the 2nd century BCE, some members of the Pazyryk culture may have started moving up North, and eventually reached the Vilyuy River at the beginning of 1st century CE. Notably, there is clear population continuity between the Uralic people such as Khants, Mansis and Nganasans, Paleo-Siberian people such as Yukaghirs and Chuvantsi, and the Pazyryk people even when considering just the two mtDNA and Y-STR haplotypes from the Ak-Alakha-1 mound 1 kurgan (Tables 1a, b, Table 2, Fig. 1). These concepts are also in agreement with the famous Yakut ethnographer Ksenofontov, who suggested that technologies associated with ferrous metallurgy were brought to the Vilyuy Valley at around 1st century CE by the first (proto)Turkic-speaking pioneers (Ksenofontov 1992). Yakut ethnogenesis per se possibly involved two major stages, the first being the proto-Turkic epoch through the arrival of Scytho-Siberian culture originating from Southern Siberia, such as that associated with the Pazyryk culture and the second being the proper Turkic epoch.

Nomadic peoples from the Central Asian steppes are East Iranian speakers whenever they are of haplogroup R1a, but “Uralic-Altaic” speakers whenever they are of haplogroup N. True story.

So they followed a haplogroup ca. 37,000 years old, in a sample dated some 2,300 years ago, whose precise subclade and ancient history is (yet) unknown, compared it to present-day populations, and the result is that they spoke “Uralic-Altaic” because haplogroup N and continuity. Sound familiar? Yep, it’s the kind of reasoning you might be reading right now about Iberian Bell Beakers, about Bell Beakers, or even about Yamna and their relationship to a Vasconic-Caucasian language, based on haplogroup R1b in modern Basques. Another true story.

Anyway, based on the multi-ethnic federations created during this time, and on the ancestral components visible in the different groups (see a post on Karasuk by Chad Rohlfsen), the Pazyryk culture’s language is unknown, and it could be, as a matter of fact (apart from the obvious East Iranian connection):

We also know that haplogroup N and Siberian ancestry expanded into cultures of Northern Eurasia precisely with the creation of the new social paradigm of chiefdoms and alliances, roughly at the same time as Scythians expanded, with the first sample of haplogroup N in Hungary appearing with Cimmerians.

Map of archaeological cultures in north-eastern Europe ca. 8th-3rd centuries BC. [The Mid-Volga Akozino group not depicted] Shaded area represents the Ananino cultural-historical society. Fading purple arrows represent likely stepped movements of subclades of haplogroup N for centuries (e.g. Siberian → Ananino → Akozino → Fennoscandia [N-VL29]; Circum-Arctic → forest-steppe [N1, N2]; etc.). Blue arrows represent eventual expansions of Uralic peoples to the north. Modified image from Vasilyev (2002).

While the study of modern populations is interesting, the problem I have with the paper is the reasoning of “language of ancient haplogroups based on modern populations”, and especially with the concept of “Uralic-Altaic”, and the highly hypothetic “Proto-Turkic” nomadic steppe pastoralists before “Hunnic Turkic” (which is itself questionable), before the “real Turkic” layer (being the authors apparently Turkic themselves), and the supposed “continuity” of Eastern Uralic and Turkic groups in Asia since the Out of Africa migration. The combination of all of this in the same text is just disturbing.

If you look at it from the bright side, at least these samples were not of haplogroup R1a-Z280, or we would be talking about great Slavonic Scythians showing continuity from Russia with love, as the paper threatened to do in its introduction…

If you are enjoying the comeback of this retro 2000s comedy in 2019 (based on the classic nativist “R1a=IE”, “R1b=Basque”, and “N=Uralic” combo) it’s because you – like me – are putting yourself in this guy’s shoes every time a new episode of funny self-destruction appears:



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?


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


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

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

Scythian population genetics and settlement patterns

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A detail of the cultures involved in these population movements:


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

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

Impact of colonization in north-eastern Siberia

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

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

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

The Iron Age expansion of Southern Siberian groups and ancestry with Scythians


Maternal genetic features of the Iron Age Tagar population from Southern Siberia (1st millennium BC), by Pilipenko et al. (2018).

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

The positions of non-Tagar Iron Age groups in the MDS plot were correlated with their geographic position within the Eurasian steppe belt and with frequencies of Western and Eastern Eurasian mtDNA lineages in their gene pools. Series from chronological Tagar stages (similar to the overall Tagar series) were located within the genetic variability (in terms of mtDNA) of Scythian World nomadic groups (Figs 5 and 6; S4 and S6 Tables). Specifically, the Early Tagar series was more similar to western nomads (North Pontic Scythians), while the Middle Tagar was more similar to the Southern Siberian populations of the Scythian period. The Late Tagar group (Tes`culture) belonging to the Early Xiongnu period had the “western-most” location on the MDS plot with the maximal genetic difference from Xiongnu and other eastern nomadic groups (but see Discussion concerning the low sample size for the Tes`series).

In a comparison of our Tagar series with modern populations in Eurasia, we detected similarity between the Tagar group and some modern Turkic-speaking populations (with the exception of the Indo-Iranian Tajik population) (Fig 7; S2 Table). Among the modern Turkic-speaking groups, populations from the western part of the Eurasian steppe belt, such as Bashkirs from the Volga-Ural region and Siberian Tatars from the West Siberian forest-steppe zone, were more similar to the Tagar group than modern Turkic-speaking populations of the Altay-Sayan mountain system (including the Khakassians from the Minusinsk basin) (Fig 7).

Location of Tagar archaeological sites from which samples for this study were obtained. Burial grounds: 1—Novaya Chernaya-1; 2—Podgornoe Ozero, Barsuchiha-1, Barsuchiha-6, Barsuchiha-7; 3—Perevozinskiy; 4—Ulug-Kyuzyur, Kichik-Kyuzyur, Sovetskaya Khakassiya; 5—Tepsey-3, Tepsey-8, Tepsey-9; 6—Dolgiy Kurgan.

Mitochondrial DNA diversity and genetic relationships of the Tagar population

Our results are not inconsistent with the assumption of a probable role of gene flow due to the migration from Western Eurasia to the Minusinsk basin in the Bronze Age in the formation of the genetic composition of the Tagar population. Particularly, we detected many mtDNA lineages/clusters with probable West Eurasian origin that were dominant in modern populations of different parts of Europe, Caucasus, and the Near East (such as K and HV6) in our Tagar series based on a phylogeographic analysis.

We detected relatively low genetic distances between our Tagar population and two Bronze Age populations from the Minusinsk basin—the Okunevo culture population (pre-Andronovo Bronze Age) and Andronovo culture population, followed by Afanasievo population from the Minusinsk Basin and Middle Bronze Age population from the Mongolian Altai Mountains (the region adjacent to the Minusinsk basin) (Figs 3 and 6; S3 and S5 Tables). Among West Eurasian part of our Tagar series we also observed haplogroups/sub-haplogroups and haplotypes shared with Early and Middle Bronze Age populations from Minusinsk Basin and western part of Eurasian steppe belt (Fig 4; S5 Table). Thus, our results suggested a potentially significant role of the genetic components, introduced by migrants from Western Eurasia during the Bronze Age, in the formation of the genetic composition of the Tagar population. It is necessary to note the relatively small size of available mtDNA samples from the Bronze Age populations of Minusinsk basin; accordingly, additional mtDNA data for these populations are required to further confirm our inference.

Phylogenetic tree of mtDNA lineages from the Tagar population. Color coding of the Tagar stages: orange—the Early Tagar stage; blue—the Middle Tagar Stage; green—the Late Tagar stage. Color of haplogroup labels: yellow—for Western Eurasian haplogroups; red—for Eastern Eurasian haplogroups.

Another substantial part of the mtDNA pool of the Tagar and other eastern populations of the Scythian World is typical of populations in Southern Siberia and adjacent regions of Central Asia (autochthonous Central Asian mtDNA clusters). Most of these components belong to the East Eurasian cluster of mtDNA haplogroups. Moreover, the role of each of these components in the formation of the genetic composition of subsequent (to the present) populations in South Siberia and Central Asia could be very different. In this regard, cluster C4a2a (and its subcluster C4a2a1), and haplogroup A8 are of particular interest.

Genetic features of successive Tagar groups

We compared successive Tagar groups (Early, Middle, and Late Tagar) with each other and with other Iron Age nomadic populations to evaluate changes in the mtDNA pool structure. Despite the genetic similarity between the Early and Middle Tagar series and Scythian World nomadic groups (Figs 5 and 6; S4 and S6 Tables), there were some peculiarities. For example, the Early Tagar series was more similar to North Pontic Classic Scythians, while the Middle Tagar samples were more similar to the Southern Siberian populations of the Scythian period (i.e., completely synchronous populations of regions neighboring the Minusinsk basin, such as the Pazyryk population from the Altay Mountains and Aldy-Bel population from Tuva).

We observed differences in the mtDNA pool structure between the Early and the Middle chronological stages of the Tagar culture population, as evidenced by the change in the ratio of Western to Eastern Eurasian mtDNA components. The contribution of Eastern Eurasian lineages increased from about one-third (34.8%) in the Early Tagar group to almost one-half (45.8%) in the Middle Tagar group.

Results of multidimensional scaling based on matrix of Slatkin population differentiation (FST) according to frequencies of mtDNA haplogroup in Tagar populations and modern populations of Eurasia. Populations: Tagar (red pentagon) (this study); Mongolian-speaking populations: Khamnigans (Buryat Republic, Russia) [43]; Barghuts (Inner Mongolia, China) [44]; Buryats (Buryat Republic, Southern Siberia, Russia) [43]; Mongols (Mongolia) [45]. Turkic-speaking populations: Tuvinians (Tuva Republic, Russia) [43]; Tofalars (Irkutsk region, Russia) [46]; Altai-Kizhi ((Altai Republic, Russia) [43, 47]; Telenghits (Altai Republic, Russia) [43,47]; Tubalars (Altai Republic) [48]; Shors (Kemerovo region, Russia) [43, 47]; Khakassians (Khakassian Rupublic, Russia) [43, 46]; Altaian Kazakhs (Altai Republic) [49]; Kazakhs (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan) [50, 51]; Kirghiz (Kyrgyzstan) [50, 51]; Uighurs (Kazakhstan and Xinjiang) [50, 52]; Siberian Tatars (Tyumen and Omsk regions, Russia) [53]; Tatars (Volga-Ural rigion, Russia) [54]; Bashkirs (Volga-Ural region, Russia) [55]; Uzbeks (Uzbekistan) [51, 56]; Turkmens (Turkmenistan) [51, 56]; Nogays [57]; Turkeys [58]; other populations: Evenks [43, 46]; Ulchi [59]; Koreans (South Korea) [43]; Han Chinese [60]; Zhuang (Guangxi, China) [61]; Tadjiks (Tadjikistan) [43, 51]; Iranians [60]; Russians [62].

At the level of mtDNA haplogroups, we detected a decrease in the diversity of phylogenetic clusters during the transition from the Early Tagar to the Middle Tagar. This decline in diversity equally affected the West Eurasian and East Eurasian components of the Tagar mtDNA pool. It should be noted that this decrease can be partially explained by the smaller number of Middle Tagar than Early Tagar samples. Under a simple binomial approximation the mtDNA clusters, observed at frequencies of 6.3% and 11.7%, could be lost by chance in our Early (N = 46) and Middle (N = 24) Tagar samples, respectively. However, the simultaneous lack of several such clusters, with a total frequency in the gene pool of the Early group of 34.8%, is unlikely.

The observed reduction in the genetic distance between the Middle Tagar population and other Scythian-like populations of Southern Siberia(Fig 5; S4 Table), in our opinion, is primarily associated with an increase in the role of East Eurasian mtDNA lineages in the gene pool (up to nearly half of the gene pool) and a substantial increase in the joint frequency of haplogroups C and D (from 8.7% in the Early Tagar series to 37.5% in the Middle Tagar series). These features are characteristic of many ancient and modern populations of Southern Siberia and adjacent regions of Central Asia, including the Pazyryk population of the Altai Mountains. We did not obtain strong evidence for an intensification of genetic contact between the population of the Minusinsk basin and the Altai Mountains in the Middle Tagar period compared with the Early Tagar period. Although, several archaeologists have found evidence for the intensification of contact at the level of material culture, namely, a cultural influence of the population of the Altai Mountains (represented by the Pazyryk population) on the population of the Minusinsk basin (the Saragash Tagar group) [6, 71, 72].

Another important issue is the change in the genetic structure of the Tagar population during the transition from the Middle (Saragash) to the Late (Tes`) stage. The Late Tagar stage refers to the Xiongnu period. Many archaeologists suggest that the formation of the Tes`stage involved the direct cultural influence of the Xiongnu and/or related groups of nomads from more eastern regions of Central Asia [71, 73]. Some archaeologists have even suggested renaming the Tes`stage in the Tes`culture [71], emphasizing the role of new eastern cultural elements. If this influence also existed at the genetic level, then we would expect to observe new genetic elements in the Tes`gene pool, particularly those of East Eurasian origin.

Siberian ancestry

Just a reminder of the recent session in ISBA 8 on expanding Scythians (and also Mongolians and Turks) spreading Siberian ancestry, usually (wrongly) identified as “Uralic-Yeniseian” based on modern populations (similar to how steppe ancestry is wrongly identified as “Indo-European”), see the following graphic including the Tagar population:

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

And also the poster by Alexander M. Kim et al. Yeniseian hypotheses in light of genome-wide ancient DNA from historical Siberia:

The relevance of ancient DNA data to debates in historical linguistics is an emphatic strand in much recent work on the archaeogenetics of Eurasia, where the discussion has focused heavily on Indo-European (Haak et al. 2015; Narasimhan et al. 2018; de Barros Damgaard et al. 2018a,b). We present new genome-wide ancient DNA data from a historical Siberian individual in relation to Yeniseian, an isolated language “microfamily” (Vajda 2014) that nonetheless sits at the center of numerous controversial proposals in historical linguistics and cultural interaction. Yeniseian’s sole surviving representative is Ket, a critically endangered language fluently spoken by only a few dozen individuals near the Middle Yenisei River of Central Siberia.

In strong contrast to the present-day picture, river names and argued substrate influences and loanwords in languages outside the current range of Yeniseian, as well as direct records from the Russian colonial period, indicate that speakers of extinct Yeniseian languages had a formerly much broader presence in the taiga of Central Siberia as well as further south in the mountainous Altai-Sayan region – and perhaps even further afield in Inner Asia (Vajda 2010; Gorbachov 2017; Blažek 2016). The consilience of these proposals with genetic data is not straightforward (Flegontov et al. 2015, 2017) and faces a major obstacle in the lack of genetic information from verifiable speakers of Yeniseian languages other than the Kets, who have had complex ongoing interactions with speakers of non-Yeniseian languages such as the Samoyedic Selkups. We attempt to remedy this with new historical Siberian aDNA data, orienting our search for common denominators and systematic difference in a broader landscape of concordance, discordance, and uncertainty at the interface of diachronic linguistics and genetics.


A study of genetic diversity of three isolated populations in Xinjiang using Y-SNP


New open access paper (in Chinese) A study of genetic diversity of three isolated populations in Xinjiang using Y-SNP, by liu et al. Acta Anthropologica Sinitica (2018)


The Keriyan, Lopnur and Dolan peoples are isolated populations with sparse numbers living in the western border desert of our country. By sequencing and typing the complete Y-chromosome of 179 individuals in these three isolated populations, all mutations and SNPs in the Y-chromosome and their corresponding haplotypes were obtained. Types and frequencies of each haplotype were analyzed to investigate genetic diversity and genetic structure in the three isolated populations. The results showed that 12 haplogroups were detected in the Keriyan with high frequencies of the J2a1b1 (25.64%), R1a1a1b2a (20.51%), R2a (17.95%) and R1a1a1b2a2 (15.38%) groups. Sixteen haplogroups were noted in the Lopnur with the following frequencies: J2a1 (43.75%), J2a2 (14.06%), R2 (9.38%) and L1c (7.81%). Forty haplogroups were found in the Dolan, noting the following frequencies: R1b1a1a1 (9.21%), R1a1a1b2a1a (7.89%), R1a1a1b2a2b (6.58%) and C3c1 (6.58%). These data show that these three isolated populations have a closer genetic relationship with the Uygur, Mongolian and Sala peoples. In particular, there are no significant differences in haplotype and frequency between the three isolated populations and Uygur (f=0.833, p=0.367). In addition, the genetic haplotypes and frequencies in the three isolated populations showed marked Eurasian mixing illustrating typical characteristics of Central Asian populations.

Figure 1. The populations distribution map. Left: Uluru. Center: Dali Yabuyi. Right: Kaerqu.

My knowledge of written Chinese is almost zero, so here are some excerpts with the help of Google Translate:

The source of 179 blood samples used in the study is shown in Figure 1. The Keriyan blood samples were collected from Dali Yabuyi Township, Yutian County (39 samples). The blood samples of the Lopnur people were collected from Kaerqu Township, Yuli County (64 cases); the blood samples of the Dolan people were collected from the town of Uluru, Awati County (76).

Columns one and two are the Keriyan haplotypes and frequencies, respectively; the third and fourth columns are the Lopnur haplotypes and frequencies; the last four columns are the Daolang haplotypes and frequencies.

The composition and frequency of the Keriyan people’s haplogroup are closest to those of the Uighurs, and both Principal Component Analysis and Phylogenetic Tree Analysis show that their kinship is recent. We initially infer that the Keriyan are local desert indigenous people. They have a connection with the source of the Uighurs. Chen et al. [42] studied the patriarchal and maternal genetic analysis of the Keriyan people and found that they are not descendants of the Tibetan ethnic group in the West. The Keriyan people are a mixed group of Eastern and Western Europeans, which may originate from the local Vil group. Duan Ranhui [43] and other studies have shown that the nucleotide variability and average nucleotide differences in the Keriyan population are between the reported Eastern and Western populations. The phylogenetic tree also shows that the populations in Central Asia are between the continental lineage of the eastern population and the European lineage of the western population, and the genetic distance between the Keriyan and the Uighurs is the closest, indicating that they have a close relationship.


Regarding the origin of the Lopnur people, Purzhevski judged that it was a mixture of Mongolians and Aryans according to the physical characteristics of the Lopnur people. In 1934, the Sino-Swiss delegation discovered the famous burials of the ancient tombs in the Peacock River. After research, they were the indigenous people before the Loulan period; the researcher Yang Lan, a researcher at the Institute of Cultural Relics of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that the Lopnur people were descendants of the ancient “Landan survivors”. However, the Loulan people speaking an Indo-European language, and the Lopnur people speaking Uyghur languages contradict this; the historical materials of the Western Regions, “The Geography of the Western Regions” and “The Western Regions of the Ming Dynasty” record the Uighurs who lived in Cao Cao in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Because of the occupation of the land by the Junggar nobles and their oppression, they fled. Some of them were forced to move to the Lop Nur area. There are many similar archaeological discoveries and historical records. We have no way to determine their accuracy, but they are at different times, and there is a great difference in what is heard in the same region. (…) The genetic characteristics of modern Lopnur people are the result of the long-term ethnic integration of Uyghurs, Mongols, and Europeans. This is also consistent with the similarity of the genetic structure of the Y chromosome of Lopnur in this study with the Uighurs and Mongolians. For example, the frequency of J haplogroup is as high as 59.37%, while J and its downstream sub-haplogroup are mainly distributed in western Europe, West Asia and Central Asia; the frequency of O, R haplogroup is close to that of Mongolians.

1) KA: Keriya, LB: Rob, DL: Daolang, HTW: Hetian Uygur, HTWZ: and Uygur, TLFW: Turpan Uighur, HZ: Hui, HSKZ: Kazakh, WZBKZ: Wuhuan Others, TJKZ: Tajik, KEKZZ: Kirgiz, TTEZ: Tatar, ELSZ: Russian XBZ: Xibo, MGZ: Mongolian, SLZ: Salar, XJH: Xinjiang Han, GSH: Gansu Han, GDH: Guangdong Han SCH: Sichuan Han. 2) Reference population data source literature 19-22. After the population names in the table have been marked, all the shorthands in the text are referred to in this table. 3) Because the degree of haplotypes of each reference population is different to each sub-group branch, the sub-group branches under the same haplogroup are merged when the population haplogroup data is aggregated, for example: for haplogroup G Some people are divided into G1a and G2a levels, others are assigned to G1, G2, and G3, while some people can only determine G this time. Therefore, each subgroup is merged into a single group G.

According to Ming History·Western Biography, the Mongolians originated from the Mobei Plateau and later ruled Asia and Eastern Europe. Mongolia was established, and large areas of southern Xinjiang and Central Asia were included. Later, due to the Mongolian king’s struggle for power, it fell into a long-term conflict. People of the land fled to avoid the war, and the uninhabited plain of the lower reaches of the Yarkant River naturally became a good place to live. People from all over the world gathered together and called themselves “Dura” and changed to “Dang Lang”. The long-term local Uyghur exchanges that entered the southern Mongolian monks and “Dura” were gradually assimilated [44]. According to the report, locals wore Mongolian clothes, especially women who still maintained a Mongolian face [45]. In 1976, the robes and waistbands found in the ancient time of the Daolang people in Awati County were very similar to those of the ancients. Dalang Muqam is an important part of Daolang culture. It is also a part of the Uyghur Twelve Muqam, and it retains the ancient Western culture, but it also contains a larger Mongolian culture and relics. The above historical records show that the Daolang people should appear in the Chagatai Khanate and be formed by the integration of Mongolian and Uighur ethnic groups. Through our research, we also found that the paternal haplotype of the Daolang people is contained in both Uygur and Mongolian, and the main haplogroups are the same, whereas the frequencies are different (see Table 3). The principal component analysis and the NJ analysis are also the same. It is very close to the Uyghur and the Mongolian people, which establishes new evidence for the “mixed theory” in molecular genetics.

Genetic relationship between the three isolated populations: the Uygur and the Mongolian is the closest, and the main haplogroup can more intuitively compare the source composition of the genetic structure of each population. Haplogroups C, D, and O are mainly distributed in Asia as the East Asian characteristic haplogroup; haplogroups G, J, and R are mainly distributed in continental Europe, and the high frequency distribution is in Europe and Central Asia.

If the nomenclature follows a recent ISOGG standard, it appears that:

The presence of exclusively R1a-Z93 subclades and the lack of R1b-M269 samples is compatible with the expansion of R1a-Z93 into the area with Proto-Tocharians, at the turn of the 3rd-2nd millennium BC, as suggested by the Xiaohe samples, supposedly R1a(xZ93).

Now that it is obvious from ancient DNA (as it was clear from linguistics) that Pre-Tocharians separated earlier than other Late PIE peoples, with the expansion of late Khvalynsk/Repin into the Altai, at the end of the 4th millennium, these prevalent R1a (probably Z93) samples may be showing a replacement of Pre-Tocharian Y-DNA with the Andronovo expansion already by 2000 BC.

Lacking proper assessment of ancient DNA from Proto-Tocharians, this potential early Y-DNA replacement is still speculative*. However, if that is the case, I wonder what the Copenhagen group will say when supporting this, but rejecting at the same time the more obvious Y-DNA replacement in East Yamna / Poltavka in the mid-3rd millennium with incoming Corded Ware-related peoples. I guess the invention of an Indo-Tocharian group may be near…

*NOTE. The presence of R1b-M269 among Proto-Tocharians, as well as the presence of R1b-M269 among Tarim Basin peoples in modern and ancient times is not yet fully discarded. The prevalence of R1a-Z93 may also be the sign of a more recent replacement by Iranian peoples, before the Mongolian and Turkic expansions that probably brought R1b(xM269).

Also, the presence of R1b (xM269) samples in east Asia strengthens the hypothesis of a back-migration of R1b-P297 subclades, from Northern Europe to the east, into the Lake Baikal area, during the Early Mesolithic, as found in the Botai samples and later also in Turkic populations – which are the most likely source of these subclades (and probably also of Q1a2 and N1c) in the region.


Migrations in the Levant region during the Chalcolithic, also marked by distinct Y-DNA


Open access Ancient DNA from Chalcolithic Israel reveals the role of population mixture in cultural transformation, by Harney et al. Nature Communications (2018).

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine, reference numbers deleted for clarity):


The material culture of the Late Chalcolithic period in the southern Levant contrasts qualitatively with that of earlier and later periods in the same region. The Late Chalcolithic in the Levant is characterized by increases in the density of settlements, introduction of sanctuaries, utilization of ossuaries in secondary burials, and expansion of public ritual practices as well as an efflorescence of symbolic motifs sculpted and painted on artifacts made of pottery, basalt, copper, and ivory. The period’s impressive metal artifacts, which reflect the first known use of the “lost wax” technique for casting of copper, attest to the extraordinary technical skill of the people of this period.

The distinctive cultural characteristics of the Late Chalcolithic period in the Levant (often related to the Ghassulian culture, although this term is not in practice applied to the Galilee region where this study is based) have few stylistic links to the earlier or later material cultures of the region, which has led to extensive debate about the origins of the people who made this material culture. One hypothesis is that the Chalcolithic culture in the region was spread in part by immigrants from the north (i.e., northern Mesopotamia), based on similarities in artistic designs. Others have suggested that the local populations of the Levant were entirely responsible for developing this culture, and that any similarities to material cultures to the north are due to borrowing of ideas and not to movements of people.

Previous genome-wide ancient DNA studies from the Near East have revealed that at the time when agriculture developed, populations from Anatolia, Iran, and the Levant were approximately as genetically differentiated from each other as present-day Europeans and East Asians are today. By the Bronze Age, however, expansion of different Near Eastern agriculturalist populations — Anatolian, Iranian, and Levantine — in all directions and admixture with each other substantially homogenized populations across the region, thereby contributing to the relatively low genetic differentiation that prevails today. Showed that the Levant Bronze Age population from the site of ‘Ain Ghazal, Jordan (2490–2300 BCE) could be fit statistically as a mixture of around 56% ancestry from a group related to Levantine Pre-Pottery Neolithic agriculturalists (represented by ancient DNA from Motza, Israel and ‘Ain Ghazal, Jordan; 8300–6700 BCE) and 44% related to populations of the Iranian Chalcolithic (Seh Gabi, Iran; 4680–3662 calBCE). Suggested that the Canaanite Levant Bronze Age population from the site of Sidon, Lebanon (~1700 BCE) could be modeled as a mixture of the same two groups albeit in different proportions (48% Levant Neolithic-related and 52% Iran Chalcolithic-related). However, the Neolithic and Bronze Age sites analyzed so far in the Levant are separated in time by more than three thousand years, making the study of samples that fill in this gap, such as those from Peqi’in, of critical importance.

This procedure produced genome-wide data from 22 ancient individuals from Peqi’in Cave (4500–3900 calBCE) (…)


We find that the individuals buried in Peqi’in Cave represent a relatively genetically homogenous population. This homogeneity is evident not only in the genome-wide analyses but also in the fact that most of the male individuals (nine out of ten) belong to the Y-chromosome haplogroup T, a lineage thought to have diversified in the Near East. This finding contrasts with both earlier (Neolithic and Epipaleolithic) Levantine populations, which were dominated by haplogroup E, and later Bronze Age individuals, all of whom belonged to haplogroup J.

Detailed sample background data for each of the 22 samples from which we successfully obtained ancient DNA. Additionally, background information for all samples from Peqi’in that were screened is included in Supplementary Data 1. *Indicates that Y-chromosome haplogroup call should be interpreted with caution, due to low coverage data.

Our finding that the Levant_ChL population can be well-modeled as a three-way admixture between Levant_N (57%), Anatolia_N (26%), and Iran_ChL (17%), while the Levant_BA_South can be modeled as a mixture of Levant_N (58%) and Iran_ChL (42%), but has little if any additional Anatolia_N-related ancestry, can only be explained by multiple episodes of population movement. The presence of Iran_ChL-related ancestry in both populations – but not in the earlier Levant_N – suggests a history of spread into the Levant of peoples related to Iranian agriculturalists, which must have occurred at least by the time of the Chalcolithic. The Anatolian_N component present in the Levant_ChL but not in the Levant_BA_South sample suggests that there was also a separate spread of Anatolian-related people into the region. The Levant_BA_South population may thus represent a remnant of a population that formed after an initial spread of Iran_ChL-related ancestry into the Levant that was not affected by the spread of an Anatolia_N-related population, or perhaps a reintroduction of a population without Anatolia_N-related ancestry to the region. We additionally find that the Levant_ChL population does not serve as a likely source of the Levantine-related ancestry in present-day East African populations.

These genetic results have striking correlates to material culture changes in the archaeological record. The archaeological finds at Peqi’in Cave share distinctive characteristics with other Chalcolithic sites, both to the north and south, including secondary burial in ossuaries with iconographic and geometric designs. It has been suggested that some Late Chalcolithic burial customs, artifacts and motifs may have had their origin in earlier Neolithic traditions in Anatolia and northern Mesopotamia. Some of the artistic expressions have been related to finds and ideas and to later religious concepts such as the gods Inanna and Dumuzi from these more northern regions. The knowledge and resources required to produce metallurgical artifacts in the Levant have also been hypothesized to come from the north.

Our finding of genetic discontinuity between the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age periods also resonates with aspects of the archeological record marked by dramatic changes in settlement patterns, large-scale abandonment of sites, many fewer items with symbolic meaning, and shifts in burial practices, including the disappearance of secondary burial in ossuaries. This supports the view that profound cultural upheaval, leading to the extinction of populations, was associated with the collapse of the Chalcolithic culture in this region.

Genetic structure of analyzed individuals. a Principal component analysis of 984 present-day West Eurasians (shown in gray) with 306 ancient samples projected onto the first two principal component axes and labeled by culture. b ADMIXTURE analysis of 984 and 306 ancient samples with K = 11
ancestral components. Only ancient samples are shown


I think the most interesting aspect of this paper is – as usual – the expansion of peoples associated with a single Y-DNA haplogroup. Given that the expansion of Semitic languages in the Middle East – like that of Anatolian languages from the north – must have happened after ca. 3100 BC, coinciding with the collapse of the Uruk period, these Chalcolithic north Levant peoples are probably not related to the posterior Semitic expansion in the region. This can be said to be supported by their lack of relationship with posterior Levantine migrations into Africa. The replacement of haplogroup E before the arrival of haplogroup J suggests still more clearly that Natufians and their main haplogroup were not related to the Afroasiatic expansions.

Distribution of Semitic languages. From Wikipedia.

On the other hand, while their ancestry points to neighbouring regional origins, their haplogroup T1a1a (probably T1a1a1b2) may be closely related to that of other Semitic peoples to the south, as found in east Africa and Arabia. This may be due either to a northern migration of these Chalcolithic Levantine peoples from southern regions in the 5th millennium BC, or maybe to a posterior migration of Semitic peoples from the Levant to the south, coupled with the expansion of this haplogroup, but associated with a distinct population. As we know, ancestry can change within certain generations of intense admixture, while Y-DNA haplogroups are not commonly admixed in prehistoric population expansions.

Without more data from ancient DNA, it is difficult to say. Haplogroup T1a1 is found in Morocco (ca. 3780-3650 calBC), which could point to a recent expansion of a Berbero-Semitic branch; but also in a sample from Balkans Neolithic ca. 5800-5400 calBCE, which could suggest an Anatolian origin of the specific subclades encountered here. In any case, a potential origin of Proto-Semitic anywhere near this wide Near Eastern region ca. 4500-3500 BC cannot be discarded, knowing that their ancestors came probably from Africa.

Distribution of haplogroup T of Y-chromosome. From Wikipedia.

Interesting from this paper is also that we are yet to find a single prehistoric population expansion not associated with a reduction of variability and expansion of Y-DNA haplogroups. It seems that the supposedly mixed Yamna community remains the only (hypothetical) example in history where expanding patrilineal clans will not share Y-DNA haplogroup…


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.