The earliest archaeological evidence of horse milking, harnessing, and corralling is found in the ∼5,500-year-old Botai culture of Central Asian steppes (Gaunitz et al., 2018, Outram et al., 2009; see Kosintsev and Kuznetsov, 2013 for discussion). Botai-like horses are, however, not the direct ancestors of modern domesticates but of Przewalski’s horses (Gaunitz et al., 2018). The genetic origin of modern domesticates thus remains contentious, with suggested candidates in the Pontic-Caspian steppes (Anthony, 2007), Anatolia (Arbuckle, 2012, Benecke, 2006), and Iberia (Uerpmann, 1990, Warmuth et al., 2011). Irrespective of the origins of domestication, the horse genome is known to have been reshaped significantly within the last ∼2,300 years (Librado et al., 2017, Wallner et al., 2017, Wutke et al., 2018). However, when and in which context(s) such changes occurred remains largely unknown.
To clarify the origins of domestic horses and reveal their subsequent transformation by past equestrian civilizations, we generated DNA data from 278 equine subfossils with ages mostly spanning the last six millennia (n = 265, 95%) (Figures 1A and 1B; Table S1; STAR Methods). Endogenous DNA content was compatible with economical sequencing of 87 new horse genomes to an average depth-of-coverage of 1.0- to 9.3-fold (median = 3.3-fold; Table S2). This more than doubles the number of ancient horse genomes hitherto characterized. With a total of 129 ancient genomes, 30 modern genomes, and new genome-scale data from 132 ancient individuals (0.01- to 0.9-fold, median = 0.08-fold), our dataset represents the largest genome-scale time series published for a non-human organism (Tables S2, S3, and S4; STAR Methods).
Discovering Two Divergent and Extinct Lineages of Horses
Domestic and Przewalski’s horses are the only two extant horse lineages (Der Sarkissian et al., 2015). Another lineage was genetically identified from three bones dated to ∼43,000–5,000 years ago (Librado et al., 2015, Schubert et al., 2014a). It showed morphological affinities to an extinct horse species described as Equus lenensis (Boeskorov et al., 2018). We now find that this extinct lineage also extended to Southern Siberia, following the principal component analysis (PCA), phylogenetic, and f3-outgroup clustering of an ∼24,000-year-old specimen from the Tuva Republic within this group (Figures 3, 5A and S7A). This new specimen (MerzlyYar_Rus45_23789) carries an extremely divergent mtDNA only found in the New Siberian Islands some ∼33,200 years ago (Orlando et al., 2013) (Figure 6A; STAR Methods) and absent from the three bones previously sequenced. This suggests that a divergent ghost lineage of horses contributed to the genetic ancestry of MerzlyYar_Rus45_23789. However, both the timing and location of the genetic contact between E. lenensis and this ghost lineage remain unknown.
Modeling Demography and Admixture of Extinct and Extant Horse Lineages
Phylogenetic reconstructions without gene flow indicated that IBE differentiated prior to the divergence between DOM2 and Przewalski’s horses (Figure 3; STAR Methods). However, allowing for one migration edge in TreeMix suggested closer affinities with one single Hungarian DOM2 specimen from the 3rd mill. BCE (Dunaujvaros_Duk2_4077), with extensive genetic contribution (38.6%) from the branch ancestral to all horses (Figure S7B).This, and the extremely divergent IBE Y chromosome (Figure 6B), suggest that a divergent but yet unidentified ghost population could have contributed to the IBE genetic makeup.
Rejecting Iberian Contribution to Modern Domesticates
The genome sequences of four ∼4,800- to 3,900-year-old IBE specimens characterized here allowed us to clarify ongoing debates about the possible contribution of Iberia to horse domestication (Benecke, 2006, Uerpmann, 1990, Warmuth et al., 2011). Calculating the so-called fG ratio (Martin et al., 2015) provided a minimal boundary for the IBE contribution to DOM2 members (Cahill et al., 2013) (Figure 7A). The maximum of such estimate was found in the Hungarian Dunaujvaros_Duk2_4077 specimen (∼11.7%–12.2%), consistent with its TreeMix clustering with IBE when allowing for one migration edge (Figure S7B). This specimen was previously suggested to share ancestry with a yet-unidentified population (Gaunitz et al., 2018). Calculation of f4-statistics indicates that this population is not related to E. lenensis but to IBE (Figure 7B; STAR Methods). Therefore, IBE or horses closely related to IBE, contributed ancestry to animals found at an Early Bronze Age trade center in Hungary from the late 3rd mill. BCE. This could indicate that there was long-distance exchange of horses during the Bell Beaker phenomenon (Olalde et al., 2018). The fG minimal boundary for the IBE contribution into an Iron Age Spanish horse (ElsVilars_UE4618_2672) was still important (~9.6%–10.1%), suggesting that an IBE genetic influence persisted in Iberia until at least the 7th century BCE in a domestic context. However, fG estimates were more limited for almost all ancient and modern horses investigated (median = ~4.9%–5.4%; Figure 7A).
Iron Age horses
Y chromosome nucleotide diversity (π) decreased steadily in both continents during the last ∼2,000 years but dropped to present-day levels only after 850–1,350 CE (Figures 2B and S2E; STAR Methods). This is consistent with the dominance of an ∼1,000- to 700-year-old oriental haplogroup in most modern studs (Felkel et al., 2018, Wallner et al., 2017). Our data also indicate that the growing influence of specific stallion lines post-Renaissance (Wallner et al., 2017) was responsible for as much as a 3.8- to 10.0-fold drop in Y chromosome diversity.
We then calculated Y chromosome π estimates within past cultures represented by a minimum of three males to clarify the historical contexts that most impacted Y chromosome diversity. This confirmed the temporal trajectory observed above as Byzantine horses (287–861 CE) and horses from the Great Mongolian Empire (1,206–1,368 CE) showed limited yet larger-than-modern diversity. Bronze Age Deer Stone horses from Mongolia, medieval Aukštaičiai horses from Lithuania (C9th–C10th [ninth through the tenth centuries of the Common Era]), and Iron Age Pazyryk Scythian horses showed similar diversity levels (0.000256–0.000267) (Figure 2A). However, diversity was larger in La Tène, Roman, and Gallo-Roman horses, where Y-to-autosomal π ratios were close to 0.25. This contrasts to modern horses, where marked selection of specific patrilines drives Y-to-autosomal π ratios substantially below 0.25 (0.0193–0.0396) (Figure 2A). The close-to-0.25 Y-to-autosomal π ratios found in La Tène, Roman, and Gallo-Roman horses suggest breeding strategies involving an even reproductive success among stallions or equally biased reproductive success in both sexes (Wilson Sayres et al., 2014).
Lineage is used in this paper, as in many others in genetics, as defined by a specific ancestry. I keep that nomenclature below. It should not be confused with the “lineages” or “lines” referring to Y-chromosome (or mtDNA) haplogroups.
Supporting the “archaic” nature of the Hungarian BBC horses expanding from the Pontic-Caspian steppes are:
Among Y-chromosome lines, the common group formed by Botai-Borly4 (closely related to DOM2), Scythian horses from Aldy Bel (Arzhani), Iron Age horses from Estonia (Ridala), horses from the Xiongnu culture (Uushgiin Uvur), and Roman horses from Autricum (Chartres).
Among mtDNA lines, the common group formed by Botai samples, LebyazhinkaIV NB35, and different Eurasian domesticates, including many ancient Western European ones, which reveals a likely expansion of certain subclades east and west with the Repin culture.
(…) DOM2 contributed 22% to the ancestor of Przewalski’s horses ca. 9.47 kya, suggesting the Holocene optimum, rather than the Eneolithic Botai culture (∼5.5 kya), as a period of population contact. This pre-Botai introgression could explain the Y chromosome topology, where Botai horses were reported to carry two different segregating haplogroups: one occupied a basal position in the phylogeny while the other was closely related to DOM2. Multiple admixture pulses, however, are known to have occurred along the divergence of DOM2 and the Botai-Borly4 lineage, including 2.3% post-Borly4 contribution to DOM2, and a more recent 6.8% DOM2 intogression into Przewalski’s horses (Gaunitz et al., 2018). Model C2 parameters accommodate all these as a single admixture pulse, likely averaging the contributions of all these multiple events.
The paper cannot offer a detailed picture of ancient horse domestication, but it is yet another step in showing how Repin/Yamna is the most likely source of expansion of horse domesticates in Eurasia. Even more interestingly, Yamna settlers in Hungary probably expanded an ancient lineage of that horse at the same time as they spread with the Classical Bell Beaker culture. Remarkable parallels are thus found between:
The expansion of an ancient line of horse domesticates related to Yamna Hungary/East Bell Beakers seems to be confirmed by the pre-Iberian sample from Vilars I, Els Vilars4618 2672 (ca. 700-550 BC), likely of Iberian Beaker descent, showing a lineage older than the Indo-Iranian ones, which later replaced most European lines.
NOTE. For known contacts between Yamna and Proto-Beakers just before the expansion of East Bell Beakers, see a recent post on Vanguard Yamna groups.
The findings of the paper confirm the expansion of the horse firstly (and mainly) through the steppe biome, mimicking the expansion of Proto-Indo-Europeans first, and then replaced gradually (or not so gradually) by lines brought to Europe during westward expansions of Bronze Age, Iron Age, and later specialized horse-riding steppe cultures. The expansion also correlates well with the known spread of animal traction and pastoralism before 2000 BC:
Yamna expansion to the west “with horses and wagons”, with a more homogeneous ancestry in modern Europeans due to later migrations from the east (and north):
DR: inference is that two major migrations: farmers from Anatolia, followed by steppe pastoralists. Who are they? They took horses and wagons and spread. See rapid 90% pop turn over in Britain. Similar timing in Iberia, but a bit less turnover, and more period of overlap
After 568 AD the Avars settled in the Carpathian Basin and founded the Avar Qaganate that was an important power in Central Europe until the 9th century. Part of the Avar society was probably of Asian origin, however the localisation of their homeland is hampered by the scarcity of historical and archaeological data.
Here, we study mitogenome and Y chromosomal STR variability of twenty-six individuals, a number of them representing a well-characterised elite group buried at the centre of the Carpathian Basin more than a century after the Avar conquest.
The Y-STR analyses of 17 males give evidence on a surprisingly homogeneous Y chromosomal composition. Y chromosomal STR profiles of 14 males could be assigned to haplogroup N-Tat (also N1a1-M46). N-Tat haplotype I was found in four males from Kunpeszér with identical alleles on at least nine loci. The full Y-STR haplotype I, reconstructed from AC17 with 17 detected STRs, is rare in our days. Only nine matches were found among haplotypes in YHRD database, such as samples from the Ural Region, Northern Europe (Estonia, Finland), and Western Alaska (Yupiks). We performed Median Joining (MJ) network analysis using N-Tat haplotypes with ten shared STR loci (Fig. 3, Table S9). All modern N-Tat samples included in the network had derived allele of L708 as well. Haplotype I (Cluster 1 in Fig. 3) is shared by eight populations on the MJ network among the 24 identical haplotypes. Cluster 1 represents the founding lineage, as it is described in Siberian populations, because this haplotype is shared by the most populations and it is more diverse than Cluster 2.
Nine males share N-Tat haplotype II (on a minimum of eight detected alleles), all of them buried in the Danube-Tisza Interfluve. We found 30 direct matches of this N-Tat haplotype II in the YHRD database, using the complete 17 STR Y-filer profile of AC1, AC12, AC14, AC15, AC19 samples. Most hits came from Mongolia (seven Buryats and one Khalkh) and from Russia (six Yakuts), but identical haplotypes also occur in China (five in Xinjiang and four in Inner Mongolia provinces). On the MJ network, this haplotype II is represented by Cluster 2 and is composed of 45 samples (including 32 Buryats) from six populations (Fig. 3).
A third N-Tat lineage (type III) was represented only once in the Avar dataset (AC8), and has no direct modern parallels from the YHRD database. This haplotype on the MJ network (see red arrow in Fig. 3) seems to be a descendent from other haplotype cluster that is shared by three populations (two Buryat from Mongolia, three Khanty and one Northern Mansi samples). This haplotype cluster also differs one molecular step (locus DYS393) from haplotype II. We classified the Avar samples to downstream subgroup N-F4205 within the N-Tat haplogroup, based on the results of ours and Ilumäe et al.18 and constructed a second network (Fig. S4). The N-F4205 network results support the assumption that the N-Tat Avar samples belong to N-F4205 subgroup (see SI chapter 1d for more details).
Based on our calculation, the age of accumulated STR variance (TMRCA) within N-Tat lineage for all samples is 7.0 kya (95% CI: 4.9 – 9.2 kya), considering the core haplotype (Cluster 1) to be the founding lineage. Y haplogroup N-Tat was not detected by large scale Eurasian ancient DNA studies but it occurs in late Bronze Age Inner Mongolia and late medieval Yakuts, among them N-Tat has still the highest frequency.
Two males (AC4 and AC7) from the Transtisza group belong to two different haplotypes of Y-haplogroup Q1. Both Q1a-F1096 and Q1b-M346 haplotypes have neither direct nor one step neighbour matches in the worldwide YHRD database. A network of the Q1b-M346 haplotype shows that this male had a probable Altaian or South Siberian paternal genetic origin.
EDIT (5 APR 2019): The paper offers an interesting late sample before the arrival of Hungarian conquerors, although we don’t know which precise lineage the sample belongs to:
One sample in our dataset (HC9) comes from this population, and both his mtDNA (T1a1b) and Y chromosome (R1a) support Eastern European connections. (…) Furthermore, we excluded sample HC9 from population-genetic statistical analyses because it belongs to a later period (end of 7th – early 9th centuries)
Apparently, then, results are consistent with what was already known from studies of modern populations:
According to Ilumäe et al. study, the frequency peak of N-F4205 (N3a5-F4205) chromosomes is close to the Transbaikal region of Southern Siberia and Mongolia, and we conclude that most Avar N-Tat chromosomes probably originated from a common source population of people living in this area, completely in line with the results of Ilumäe et al.
The most frequent haplogroups of the Bashkirian Maris were N1b-P43 (42%), R1a-Z280 (16%), R1a-Z93 (16%), N1c-Tat (13%), and J2-M172 (7%). Furthermore, subgroup R1b-M343 accounted for 4% and I2a-P37 covered 2% of the lineages. None of the Mari N1c Y chromosomes belonged to the N1c subgroups investigated (L1034, VL29, Z1936).
In the case of the Southern Mansi males, the most frequent haplogroups were N1b-P43 (33%), N1c-L1034 (28%) and R1a-Z280 (19%). The frequencies of the remaining haplogroups were as follows: R1a-M458 (6%), I1-L22 (3%), I2a-P37 (3%), and R1b-P312 (3%). The haplotype and haplogroup diversities of the Bashkirian Mari group were 0.9929 and 0.7657, whereas these values for the Southern Mansi were 0.9984 and 0.7873, respectively. The results show that, in both populations, haplotypes are much more diverse than haplogroups.
(..) the studied Bashkirian Mari and Southern Mansi population groups formed a compact cluster along with two Khanty, Northern Mansi, Mari, and Estonian populations based on close Fst-genetic distances (< 0.05), with nonsignificant p values (p > 0.05) except for the Estonian population. All of these populations belong to the Finno-Ugric language family. Interestingly, the other Mansi population studied by Pimenoff et al. (2008) (pop # 38) was located a great distance from the Southern Mansi group (0.268). In addition, the Bashkir population (pop # 6) did not show a close genetic affinity to the Bashkirian Mari group (0.194), even though it is the host population. However, the Russian population from the Eastern European region of Russia (pop # 49) showed a genetic distance of 0.055 with the Southern Mansi group. All Hungarian speaking populations (pops 13, 22, 23, 24, 50, and 51) showed close genetic affinities to each other and to the neighbouring populations, but not to the two studied populations.
Median-joining networks were constructed for:
N-P43 (earlier N1b):
(…) TMRCA estimates for this haplogroup were made for all P43 samples (n = 157) 8.7 kya (95% CI 6.7–10.8 kya), for the N-P43 Asian.
(…) 75% of Buryats belonged to Haplotype 2, indicating that the Buryats studied by us is a young and isolated population (Bíró et al. 2015). Bashkirian Mari samples derive from Haplotype 2 via Haplotype 3 (see dark purple circles on the top of Fig. 6a). Haplotype 3 contained six males (2 Buryat, 1 Northern Mansi, and 3 Khanty samples from Pimenoff et al. 2008). The biggest Bashkirian Mari haplotype node (3 Mari samples) was positioned three mutational steps away from Haplotype 1 and the remaining Mari samples can be derived from this haplotype. Southern Mansi haplotypes were scattered within the network except for two, which formed a smaller haplotype node with two Northern Mansi and two Khanty samples from Pimenoff et al. (2008).
R1a-Z280 haplotypes, shared by Maris, Mansis, and Hungarians, hence ancient Finno-Ugrians:
The founder R1a-Z280 haplotype was shared by four samples from four populations (1 Bashkirian Mari; 1 Southern Mansi; 1 Hungarian speaking Székely; and 1 Hungarian), as presented in Fig. 7 (Haplotype 1). Haplotype 2 included five males (3 Bashkirian Mari and 2 Hungarian), as it can be seen in Fig. 7. Haplotype 4 included two shared haplotypes (1 Bashkirian Mari and one Hungarian speaking Csángó). The remaining two Bashkirian Mari haplotypes differ from the founder haplotype (Haplotype 1) by two mutational steps via Hungarian or Hungarian and Bashkirian Mari shared haplotypes. Beside Haplotype 1, the remaining Southern Mansi haplotypes were shared with Hungarians (Haplotype 5 or turquoise blue and red-coloured circles above Haplotype 7) or with Hungarians and Hungarian speaking Székely group (Haplotypes 3, 5, and 6). Haplotype 7 included ten Hungarian speakers (Hungarian, Székely, and Csángó). One Hungarian and one Uzbek Khwarezm shared haplotype can be found in Fig. 7 as well (red and white-coloured circle). All the other haplotypes were scattered in the network. The age of accumulated STR variation within R1a-Z280 lineage for 93 samples is estimated to be 9.4 kya (95% CI 6.5–12.4 kya) considering Haplotype 1 (Fig. 7) to be the founder.
R1a-Z93 as isolated lineages among Permic and Ugric populations:
Figure 8 depicts an MJ network of R1a-Z93* samples using 106 haplotypes from the 14 populations (Fig. 8). All of the Bashkirian Mari samples (7 haplotypes) formed a very isolated branch and differed from the one Hungarian haplotype (Fig. 8, see Haplotype 1) by seven mutational steps as well from two Uzbek Tashkent samples (see Haplotype 3). Another Hungarian sample shared two haplotypes of Uzbek Khwarezm samples in Haplotype 4. This haplotype can be derived from Haplotype 3 (Uzbek Tashkent). Haplotype 2 included one Hungarian and one Khakassian male. The remaining three Hungarian haplotypes are outliers in the network and are not shared by any sample. The other population samples included in the network either form independent clusters such as Altaians, Khakassians, Khanties, and Uzbek Madjars or were scattered in the network. The age of accumulated STR variation (TMRCA) within R1a-Z93* lineage for 106 samples is estimated as 11.6 kya (95% CI 9.3–14.0 kya) considering an Armenian haplotype (Fig. 8, “A”) to be the founder and the median haplotype.
The results of modern populations for N (especially N1c) subclades show really wide clusters and ancient TMRCA, consistent with their known ancient and wide distribution in northern and eastern Eurasian groups, and thus with infiltration of different lineages with eastern nomads (and northern Arctic populations) coupled with later bottlenecks, as well as acculturation of groups.
EDIT (2 APR): Interesting is the specific subclade to which ancient Mongolic-speaking Avars belong (information from Yfull) N1c-F4205 (TMRCA ca. 500 BC), subclade of N1c-Y6058 (formed ca. 2800 BC, TMRCA ca. 2800 BC). This branch also gives the “European” branch N1c-CTS10760 (formed ca. 2800 BC, TMRCA ca. 2100 BC), and is subclade of a branch of N1c-L392 (formed ca. 4400 BC, TMRCA ca. 2800 BC). A northern expansion of N1c-L392 is probably represented by its branch N1c-Z1936 (formed ca. 2800, TMRCA ca. 2100 BC), the most likely candidate to appear in the Kola Peninsula in the Bronze Age as the Palaeo-Laplandic population (see here). Read more about potential routes of expansion of haplogroup N.
On the other hand, R1a-Z280 lineages form a tight cluster connecting Permic with Ugric groups, with R1a-Z93 showing early isolation (probably) between Cis-Urals and Trans-Urals regions. While both Corded Ware lineages in Finno-Ugrians are most likely related to the Abashevo expansion through Seima-Turbino and the Andronovo-like Horizon (and potentially later Eurasian expansions), a plausible hypothesis would be that Finno-Ugrians are related to an expansion of R1a-Z283 haplogroups (we already knew about the Finno-Permic connection), while the ancient connection between Permians and Hungarians with R1a-Z93 would correspond to this haplogroup’s potentially tighter link with an early Samoyedic split.
I don’t think that an explosive expansion of eastern Corded Ware groups of R1a-Z645 lineages will show a clear-cut division of haplogroups among Eastern Uralic groups, though, and culturally I doubt we will have such a clear image, either (similar to how the explosive expansion of Bell Beakers cannot be easily divided by regional/language group into R1b-L151 subclades before the known bottlenecks). Relevant in this regard are the known Z93 samples from the Árpád dynasty.
Such a “Z283 over Z93” layer in the Trans-Urals (and Cis-Urals?) forest-steppes would be similar to the apparent replacement of Z284 by Z282 in the Eastern Baltic during the Bronze Age (possibly with the second or Estonian Battle Axe wave or, much more likely during later population movements). Such an early R1a-Z93 split could potentially be supported also by the separation into bottlenecks under “Northern” (R1a-Z283) Finno-Ugric-speaking Abashevo-related groups and “Southern” (R1a-Z93) acculturated Indo-Iranian-speaking Abashevo migrants developing Sintashta-Potapovka admixing with Poltavka R1b-Z2103 herders.
Let’s review some of the most common myths about Hungarians (and Finno-Ugrians in general) repeated ad nauseam, side by side with my assertions:
❌ N (especially N1c-Tat) in ancient and modern samples represent the True Uralic™ N1c peoples including Magyar tribes? Nope.
❌ Modern Hungarian R1a-Z280 lineages represent the majority of the native population, poor Slavic ‘peasants’ from the Carpathian Basin, forcibly acculturated by a minority of bad bad Hungarian hordes? Nope.
Sooo, the theory of a “diluted” Y-DNA in Modern Hungarians from originally fully N-dominated conquerors subjugating native R1a-Z280 Slavs from the Carpathian Basin is not backed up by genetic studies? The ethnic Iranian-Turkic R1a-Z93 federation in the steppes that ended up speaking Magyar is not real?? Who would’ve thunk.
Totally unexpected, too, the drift of “R1a=IE” fans with the newest genetic findings towards a Molgen-like “Yamna/R1b = Vasconic-Caucasian”, “N1c = Uralic-Altaic”, and “R1a = the origin of the white world in Mother Russia”. So much for the supposed interest in “Steppe ancestry” and fancy statistics.
Interesting excerpts (emphasis in bold; modified for clarity):
Balearic Islands: The expansion of Iberian speakers
Mallorca_EBA dates to the earliest period of permanent occupation of the islands at around 2400 BCE. We parsimoniously modeled Mallorca_EBA as deriving 36.9 ± 4.2% of her ancestry from a source related to Yamnaya_Samara; (…). We next used qpAdm to identify “proximal” sources for Mallorca_EBA’s ancestry that are more closely related to this individual in space and time, and found that she can be modeled as a clade with the (small) subset of Iberian Bell Beaker culture associated individuals who carried Steppe-derived ancestry (p=0.442).
Suppl. Materials: The model used was with Bell_Beaker_Iberia_highsteppe, a group of outliers from Iberia buried in a Bell Beaker mortuary context who unlike most individuals from this context in that region had high proportions of Steppe ancestry (p=0.442).
Our estimates of Steppe ancestry in the two later Balearic Islands individuals are lower than the earlier one: 26.3 ± 5.1% for Formentera_MBA and 23.1 ± 3.6% for Menorca_LBA, but the Middle to Late Bronze Age Balearic individuals are not a clade relative to non-Balearic groups. Specifically, we find that f4(Mbuti.DG, X; Formentera_MBA, Menorca_LBA) is positive when X=Iberia_Chalcolithic (Z=2.6) or X=Sardinia_Nuragic_BA (Z=2.7). While it is tempting to interpret the latter statistic as suggesting a genetic link between peoples of the Talaiotic culture of the Balearic islands and the Nuragic culture of Sardinia, the attraction to Iberia_Chalcolithic is just as strong, and the mitochondrial haplogroup U5b1+16189+@16192 in Menorca_LBA is not observed in Sardinia_Nuragic_BA but is observed in multiple Iberia_Chalcolithic individuals. A possible explanation is that both the ancestors of Nuragic Sardinians and the ancestors of Talaiotic people from the Balearic Islands received gene flow from an unsampled Iberian Chalcolithic-related group (perhaps a mainland group affiliated to both) that did not contribute to Formentera_MBA.
This sample, like another one in El Argar, is of hg. R1b-P312. So there you are, the data that connects the Proto-Iberian expansion (replacing IE-speaking Bell Beakers) to the Iberian Chalcolithic population, signaled by the increase in Iberian Chalcolithic ancestry after the arrival of Bell Beakers, most likely connected originally to the Argaric and post-Argaric expansions during the MBA.
Steppe in Sardinia IA: Phocaeans from Italy?
Most Sardinians buried in a Nuragic Bronze Age context possessed uniparental haplogroups found in European hunter-gatherers and early farmers, including Y-haplogroup R1b1a[xR1b1a1a] which is different from the characteristic R1b1a1a2a1a2 spread in association with the Bell Beaker complex. An exception is individual I10553 (1226-1056 calBCE) who carried Y-haplogroup J2b2a, previously observed in a Croatian Middle Bronze Age individual bearing Steppe ancestry, suggesting the possibility of genetic input from groups that arrived from the east after the spread of first farmers. This is consistent with the evidence of material culture exchange between Sardinians and mainland Mediterranean groups, although genome-wide analyses find no significant evidence of Steppe ancestry so the quantitative demographic impact was minimal.
Another interesting data, these (Mesolithic) remnant R1b-V88 lineages closely related to the Italian Peninsula, the most likely region of expansion of these lineages into Africa, in turn possibly connected to the expansion of Proto-Afroasiatic.
We detect definitive evidence of Iranian-related ancestry in an Iron Age Sardinian I10366 (391-209 calBCE) with an estimate of 11.9 ± 3.7.% Iran_Ganj_Dareh_Neolithic related ancestry, while rejecting the model with only Anatolian_Neolithic and WHG at p=0.0066 (Supplementary Table 9). The only model that we can fit for this individual using a pair of populations that are closer in time is as a mixture of Iberia_Chalcolithic (11.9 ± 3.2%) and Mycenaean (88.1 ± 3.2%) (p=0.067). This model fits even when including Nuragic Sardinians in the outgroups of the qpAdm analysis, which is consistent with the hypothesis that this individual had little if any ancestry from earlier Sardinians.
Sicily EBA: The Lusitanian/Ligurian connection?
(…) While a previously reported Bell Beaker culture-associated individual from Sicily had no evidence of Steppe ancestry, (…) we find evidence of Steppe ancestry in the Early Bronze Age by ~2200 BCE. In distal qpAdm, the outlier Sicily_EBA11443 is parsimoniously modeled as harboring 40.2 ± 3.5% Steppe ancestry, and the outlier Sicily_EBA8561 is parsimoniously modeled as harboring 23.3 ± 3.5% Steppe ancestry. (…) The presence of Steppe ancestry in Early Bronze Age Sicily is also evident in Y chromosome analysis, which reveals that 4 of the 5 Early Bronze Age males had Steppe-associated Y-haplogroup R1b1a1a2a1a2. (Online Table 1). Two of these were Y-haplogroup R1b1a1a2a1a2a1 (Z195) which today is largely restricted to Iberia and has been hypothesized to have originated there 2500-2000 BCE. This evidence of west-to-east gene flow from Iberia is also suggested by qpAdm modeling where the only parsimonious proximate source for the Steppe ancestry we found in the main Sicily_EBA cluster is Iberians.
What’s this? An ancestral connection between SicelElymian and Galaico-Lusitanian or Ligurian (based on an origin in NE Iberia)? Impossible to say, especially if the languages of these early settlers were replaced later by non-Indo-European speakers from the eastern Mediterranean, and by Indo-European speakers from the mainland closely related to Proto-Italic during the LBA, but see below.
Regarding the comment on R1b-Z195, it is associated with modern Iberians, as DF27 in general, due to founder effects beyond the Pyrenees. It is a very old subclade, split directly from DF27 roughly at the same time as it split from the parent P312, i.e. it can be found anywhere in Europe, and it almost certainly accompanied the expansion of Celts from Central Europe under the subclade R1b-M167/SRY2627.
The connection is thus strong only because of the qpAdm modeling, since R1b-DF27 and subclade R1b-Z195 are certainly lineages expanded quite early, most likely with Yamna settlers in Hungary and East Bell Beakers.
We detect Iranian-related ancestry in Sicily by the Middle Bronze Age 1800-1500 BCE, consistent with the directional shift of these individuals toward Mycenaeans in PCA. Specifically, two of the Middle Bronze Age individuals can only be fit with models that in addition to Anatolia_Neolithic and WHG, include Iran_Ganj_Dareh_Neolithic. The most parsimonious model for Sicily_MBA3125 has 18.0 ± 3.6% Iranian-related ancestry (p=0.032 for rejecting the alternative model of Steppe rather than Iranian-related ancestry), and the most parsimonious model for Sicily_MBA has 14.9 ± 3.9% Iranian-related ancestry (p=0.037 for rejecting the alternative model).
The modern southern Italian Caucasus-related signal identified in Raveane et al. (2018) is plausibly related to the same Iranian-related spread of ancestry into Sicily that we observe in the Middle Bronze Age (and possibly the Early Bronze Age).
The non-Indo-European Sicanians and Elymians were possibly then connected to eastern Mediterranean groups before the expansion of the Sea Peoples.
For the Late Bronze Age group of individuals, qpAdm documented Steppe-related ancestry, modeling this group as 80.2 ± 1.8% Anatolia_Neolithic, 5.3 ± 1.6% WHG, and 14.5 ± 2.2% Yamnaya_Samara. Our modeling using sources more closely related in space and time also supports Sicily_LBA having Minoan-related ancestry or being derived from local preceding populations or individuals with ancestries similar to those of Sicily_EBA3123 (p=0.527), Sicily_MBA3124 (p=0.352), and Sicily_MBA3125 (p=0.095).
This increase in Steppe-related ancestry in a western site during the LBA most likely represents either an expansion from the Aegean or – maybe more likely, given the archaeological finds – a regional population similar to Sicily EBA re-emerging or rather being displaced from the eastern part of the island because of a westward movement from nearby Calabria.
Whether this population sampled spoke Indo-European or not at this time is questionable, since the Iron Age accounts show non-IE Elymians in this region.
Actually, Elymians seem to have spoken Indo-European, which fits well with the increase in steppe ancestry.
EDIT (21 MAR): Interesting about a proposed incoming Minoan-like ancestry is the potential origin of the Iran Neolithic-related ancestry that is going to appear in Central Italy during the LBA. This could then be potentially associated with Tyrsenians passing through the area, although the traditional description may be more more compatible with an arrival of Sea Peoples from the Adriatic.
Sad to read this:
This manuscript is dedicated to the memory of Sebastiano Tusa of the Soprintendenza del Mare in Palermo, who would have been an author of this study had he not tragically died in the crash of Ethiopia Airlines flight 302 on March 10.
Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine; most internal references removed):
The earliest, most secure archaeological evidence of human occupation of the region comes from the artefact-rich, high-latitude (~70° N) Yana RHS site dated to ~31.6 kya (…)
The Yana RHS human remains represent the earliest direct evidence of human presence in northeastern Siberia, a population we refer to as “Ancient North Siberians” (ANS). Both Yana RHS individuals were unrelated males, and belong to mitochondrial haplogroup U, predominant among ancient West Eurasian hunter-gatherers, and to Y chromosome haplogroup P1, ancestral to haplogroups Q and R, which are widespread among present-day Eurasians and Native Americans.
Symmetry tests using f4 statistics reject tree-like clade relationships with both Early West Eurasians (EWE; Sunghir) and Early East Asians (EEA; Tianyuan); however, Yana is genetically closer to EWE, despite its geographic location in northeastern Siberia
Using admixture graphs (qpGraph) and outgroup-based estimation of mixture proportions (qpAdm), we find that Yana can be modelled as EWE with ~25% contribution from EEA
Among all ancient individuals, Yana shares the most genetic drift with Mal’ta, and f4 statistics show that Mal’ta shares more alleles with Yana than with EWE (e.g. f4(Mbuti,Mal’ta;Sunghir,Yana) = 0.0019, Z = 3.99). Mal’ta and Yana also exhibit a similar pattern of genetic affinities to both EWE and EEA, consistent with previous studies.The ANE lineage can thus be considered a descendant of the ANS lineage, demonstrating that by 31.6 kya early representatives of this lineage were widespread across northern Eurasia, including far northeastern Siberia.
(…) the 9.8 kya Kolyma1 individual, representing a group we term “Ancient Paleosiberians” (AP). Our results indicate that AP are derived from a first major genetic shift observed in the region. Principal component analysis (PCA), outgroup f3-statistics and mtDNA and Y chromosome haplogroups (G1b and Q1a1a, respectively) demonstrate a close affinity between AP and present-day Koryaks, Itelmen and Chukchis, as well as with Native Americans.
For both AP and Native Americans, ANS ancestry appears more closely related to Mal’ta than Yana, therefore rejecting a direct contribution of Yana to later AP or Native American groups.
Lake Baikal Neolithic – Bronze Age
(…) the newly reported genomes from Ust’Belaya and recently published neighbouring Neolithic and Bronze Age sites show a succession of three distinct genetic ancestries over a ~6 ky time span. The earliest individuals show predominantly East Asian ancestry, closely related to the ancient individuals from DGC. In the early Bronze Age (BA), we observe a resurgence of AP ancestry (up to ~50% ancestry fraction), as well as influence of West Eurasian Steppe ANE ancestry represented by the early BA individuals from Afanasievo in the Altai region (~10%) This is consistent with previous reports of gene flow from an unknown ANE-related source into Lake Baikal hunter-gatherers.
Our results suggest a southward expansion of AP as a possible source, which is also consistent with the replacement of Y chromosome lineages observed at Lake Baikal, from predominantly haplogroup N in the Neolithic to haplogroup Q in the BA. Finally, the most recent individual from Ust’Belaya, dated to ~600 years ago, falls along the Neosiberian cline, similar to the ~760 year-old ‘Young Yana’ individual from northeastern Siberia, demonstrating the widespread distribution of Neosiberian ancestry in the most recent epoch.
At the western edge of northern Eurasia, genetic and strontium isotope data from ancient individuals at the Levänluhta site documents the presence of Saami ancestry in Southern Finland in the Late Holocene 1.5 kya. This ancestry component is currently limited to the northern fringes of the region, mirroring the pattern observed for AP ancestry in northeastern Siberia. However, while the ancient Saami individuals harbour East Asian ancestry, we find that this is better modelled by DGC rather than AP, suggesting that AP influence was likely restricted to the eastern side of the Urals. Comparison of ancient Finns and Saami with their present-day counterparts reveals additional gene flow over the past 1.6 kya, with evidence for West Eurasian admixture into modern Saami. The ancient Finn from Levänluhta shows lower Siberian ancestry than modern Finns .
EDIT (27 OCT 2018): By comparing the three, I see these are samples published already (at least two) in Lamnidis et al. (2018), but here with added (1) specific radiocarbon dates, (2) comparison with Neosiberian populations and (3) strontium isotope analyses.
Finnish_IA (ca. 350 AD) is probably a Saami-speaking individual, just like the Saami_IA with newly reported radiocarbon dates from Levänluhta ca. 400-600 AD (since Fennic peoples were then likely around the Gulf of Finland).
The conflicting strontium isotope data on marine dietary resources on certain samples from the supplementary material hint at possible external origin of the diet of some of the previously reported (and possibly one newly reported) Saami Iron Age individuals, from some 25-30 km. to the northwest through the river up to hundreds of km. to the southwest of Levänluhta (i.e. the whole coast of the Bothnian Sea). It is unclear why they would prefer an origin of the dietary source in southern Baltic regions instead of some km. to the west, though, unless that’s what they want to propose based on the sample’s admixture…
The coast of the Bothnian Sea (=the northern part of the Baltic Sea, between Sweden and Finland) lay only 25-30 km to the northwest, and accessible to the Iron Age people of the Levänluhta region via the Kyrönjoki river. (…) For individual JA2065/DA236, the low 87Sr/86Sr value (0.71078) would imply an exceptionally heavy reliance on Baltic Sea resources. The δ13C and δ15N values of the individual are near comparable (especially considering within-Baltic latitudinal gradients in δ13C; Torniainen et al. 2017) to the δ13C and δ15N values of a Middle Neolithic population on the Baltic island of Gotland (Eriksson, 2004) interpreted to have subsisted primarily on seals.
These new data on the samples give us some more information than what we already had, because the early date of Finnish_IA implies that there was few East Asian admixture (if any at all) in west Finland during the Roman Iron Age, which pushes still farther forward in time the expected appearance of Siberian ancestry among Saamic (first) and Fennic populations (later). It is unclear whether this East Asian ancestry found in Finnish_IA is actually related to DGC, or it is rather related to the ENA-like ancestry found already in Baltic hunter-gatherers (i.e. in some EHG samples from Karelia), for which Baikal_EN is a good proxy in Lazaridis et al. (2018).
The paper finds thus increased (probably the actual) Siberian ancestry in modern Finns compared to this Iron Age Saami individual. Coupled with the later Saami Iron Age samples, from between one to three centuries later – showing the start of Siberian ancestry influx – , we can begin to establish when the expansion of Siberian ancestry happened in central Finland, and thus quite likely when the Saami began to expand to the north and east and admix with Palaeo-Laplandic peoples.
One sample of haplogroup N1a1a1a1a4a1-M1982, Yana_MED, is found in the Arctic region (north-eastern Yakutia) ca. 1100 AD. Since it is derived from N1a1a1a1a-L392, it might be a surprise for some to find it in a clearly non-Uralic speaking environment at the same time other subclades of this haplogroup were admixing in the west with well-established Finno-Saamic, Volga-Finnic, Ugric, and Samoyedic populations…
On the growing doubts that these data – contradicting the CWC=IE theory – are creating among geneticists (from the supplementary materials):
The Proto-Saami language evolved in southern Finland and Karelia in the Early Iron Age, an area now host to Finnish and the closely related Karelian, but with Saami toponyms showing that the latter two languages are intrusive here (Saarikivi 2004). Saami-speaking populations are thought to have retreated to Lapland during the Middle Iron Age (300–800 AD), where it diverged into the modern Saami dialects. Genetically, the northward retreat of the Saami language correlates with the documented decrease of Saami ancestry in Southern Finland between the Iron Age and the modern period (cf. Lamnidis et al. 2018).
On the way to Lapland, the Saami replaced at least two linguistically obscure groups. This can be inferred from 1) an influx of non-Uralic loanwords into Proto-Saami in the Finnish Lakeland area, and 2) an influx of non-Uralic, non-Germanic words into Saami dialects in Lapland (Aikio 2012). Both of these borrowing events imply contact with non-Saami-speaking groups, e.g. non-Uralic-speaking hunter-gatherers that may have left a genetic and linguistic footprint on modern Saami populations.
The linguistic prehistory of Finland thus does not allow for a straightforward interpretation of the genetic data. The detection of East Asian ancestry in the genetically Saami individual is indicative of a population movement from the east (cf. Lamnidis et al. 2018, Rootsi et al. 2007), one that given the affinities with the ~7.6 ky old individuals from the Devil’s Gate Cave may have been a western extension of the Neosiberian turnover. However, it remains unclear whether this gene flow should be associated with the arrival of Uralic speakers, thus providing further support for a Uralic homeland in Eastern Eurasia, or with an earlier immigration of pre-Uralic, so-called “Paleo-Lakelandic” groups.
I think the genetic interpretation is already straightforward, though. We had a sneak peek at how this late admixture with non-Uralians (mainly Palaeo-Lakelandic and Palaeo-Laplandic peoples from Lovozero and related asbestos ware cultures) is going to unfold among expanding Saami-speaking populations thanks to Lamnidis et al. (2018):
Also, still no trace of R1a in far East Asia (reported as M17 ca. 5300 BC near Lake Baikal by Moussa et al. 2016), so I still have doubts about my previous assessment that R1a split into M17 (and thus also M417) in Siberia, with those expanding hunter-gatherer pottery.
NOTE. I understand that writing a paper requires a lot of work, and probably statistical methods are the main interest of authors, editors, and reviewers. But it is difficult to comprehend how any user of open source tools can instantly offer a more complex assessment of the samples’ Y-SNP calls than professionals working on these samples for months. I think that, by now, it should be clear to everyone that Y-DNA is often as important (sometimes even more) than statistical tools to infer certain population movements, since admixture can change within few generations of male-biased migrations, whereas haplogroups can’t…
Srubna-Andronovo samples are as homogeneous as they always were, dominated by R1a-Z645 subclades and CWC-related (steppe_MLBA) ancestry.
The appearance of one (possibly two) R-Z280 lineages in this mixed Srubna-Alakul region of the southern Urals and this early (1880-1690 BC, hence rather Pokrovka-Alakul) points to the admixture of R1a-Z93 and R1a-Z280 already in Abashevo, which also explains the wide distribution of both subclades in the forest zones of Central Asia.
If Abashevo is the cornerstone of the Indo-Iranian / Uralic community, as it seems, the genetic admixture would initially be quite similar, undergoing in the steppes a reduction to haplogroup R1a-Z93 (obviously not complete), at the same time as it expanded to the west with Pokrovka and Srubna, and to the east with Petrovka and Andronovo. To the north, similar reductions will probably be seen following the Seima-Turbino phenomenon.
NOTE. Another R1a-Z280 has been found in the recent sample from Bronze Age Poland (see spreadsheet). As it appears right now in ancient and modern DNA, there seems to be a different distribution between subclades:
R1a-Z280 (formed ca. 2900 BC, TMRCA ca. 2600 BC) appears mainly distributed today to the east, in the forest and steppe regions, with the most ‘successful’ expansions possibly related to the spread of Abashevo- and Battle Axe-related cultures (Indo-Iranian and Uralic alike).
R1a-M458 (formed ca. 2700, TMRCA ca. 2700 BC) appears mainly distributed to the north, from central Europe to the east – but not in the steppe in aDNA, with the most ‘successful’ expansions to the west.
M458 lineages seem thus to have expanded in the steppe in sizeable numbers only after the Iranian expansions (see a map of modern R1a distributions) i.e. possibly with the expansion of Slavs, which supports the model whereby cultures from central-east Europe (like Trzciniec and Lusatian), accompanied mainly by M458 lineages, were responsible for the expansion of Proto-Balto-Slavic (and later Proto-Slavic).
The finding of haplogroup R1a-Z93, among them one Z2123, is no surprise at this point after other similar Srubna samples. As I said, the early Srubna expansion is most likely responsible for the Szólád Bronze Age sample (ca. 2100-1700 BC), and for the Balkans BA sample (ca. 1750-1625 BC) from Merichleri, due to incursions along the central-east European steppe.
Cimmerian samples from the west show signs of continuity with R1a-Z93 lineages. Nevertheless, the sample of haplogroup Q1a-Y558, together with the ‘Pre-Scythian’ sample of haplogroup N (of the Mezőcsát Culture) in Hungary ca. 980-830 BC, as well as their PCA, seem to depict an origin of these Pre-Scythian peoples in populations related to the eastern Central Asian steppes, too.
NOTE. I will write more on different movements (unrelated to Uralic expansions) from Central and East Asia to the west accompanied by Siberian ancestry and haplogroup N with the post of Ugric-Samoyedic expansions.
The Scythian of Z2123 lineage ca. 375-203 BC from the Volga (in Mathieson et al. 2015), together with the sample scy193 from Glinoe (probably also R1a-Z2123), without a date, as well as their common Steppe_MLBA cluster, suggest that Scythians, too, were at first probably quite homogeneous as is common among pastoralist nomads, and came thus from the Central Asian steppes.
The reduction in haplogroup variability among East Iranian peoples seems supported by the three new Late Sarmatian samples of haplogroup R1a-Z2124.
Approximate location of Glinoe and Glinoe Sad (with Starosilya to the south, in Ukrainian territory):
This initial expansion of Scythians does not mean that one can dismiss the western samples as non-Scythians, though, because ‘Scythian’ is a cultural attribution, based on materials. Confirming the diversity among western Scythians, a session at the recent ISBA 8:
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 BP. 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.
(…) Our results (…) 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:
The findings of those 31 samples seem to support what Krzewińska et al. (2018) found in a tiny region of Moldavia-south-western Ukraine (Glinoi, Glinoi Sad, and Starosilya).
The question, then, is as follows: if Scythian dominance was “cultural rather than achieved through population replacement”…Where are the R1b-Z2103 from? One possibility, as I said in the previous post, is that they represent pockets of Iranian R1b lineages in the steppes descended from eastern Yamna, given that this haplogroup appears in modern populations from a wide region surrounding the steppes.
The other possibility, which is what some have proposed since the publication of the paper, is that they are related to Thracians, and thus to Palaeo-Balkan populations. About the previously published Thracian individuals in Sikora et al. (2014):
For the Thracian individuals from Bulgaria, no clear pattern emerges. While P192-1 still shows the highest proportion of Sardinian ancestry, K8 more resembles the HG individuals, with a high fraction of Russian ancestry.
Despite their different geographic origins, both the Swedish farmer gok4 and the Thracian P192-1 closely resemble the Iceman in their relationship with Sardinians, making it unlikely that all three individuals were recent migrants from Sardinia. Furthermore, P192-1 is an Iron Age individual from well after the arrival of the first farmers in Southeastern Europe (more than 2,000 years after the Iceman and gok4), perhaps indicating genetic continuity with the early farmers in this region. The only non-HG individual not following this pattern is K8 from Bulgaria. Interestingly, this individual was excavated from an aristocratic inhumation burial containing rich grave goods, indicating a high social standing, as opposed to the other individual, who was found in a pit.
The following are excerpts from A Companion to Ancient Thrace (2015), by Valeva, Nankov, and Graninger (emphasis mine):
Thracian settlements from the 6th c. BC on:
(…) urban centers were established in northeastern Thrace, whose development was linked to the growth of road and communication networks along with related economic and distributive functions. The early establishment of markets/emporia along the Danube took place toward the middle of the first millennium BCE (Irimia 2006, 250–253; Stoyanov in press). The abundant data for intensive trade discovered at the Getic village in Satu Nou on the right bank of the Danube provides another example of an emporion that developed along the main artery of communication toward the interior of Thrace (Conovici 2000, 75–76).
Undoubtedly the most prominent manifestation of centralization processes and stratification in the settlement system of Thrace arrives with the emergence of political capitals – the leading urban centers of various Thracian political formations.
Their relationships with Scythians and Greeks
The Scythian presence south of the Danube must be balanced with a Thracian presence north of the river. We have observed Getae there in Alexander’s day, settled and raising grain. For Strabo the coastlands from the Danube delta north as far as the river and Greek city of Tyras were the Desert of the Getae (7.3.14), notable for its poverty and tracklessness beyond the great river. He seems to suggest also that it was here that Lysimachus was taken alive by Dromichaetes, king of the Getae, whose famous homily on poverty and imperialism only makes sense on the steppe beyond the river (7.3.8; cf. Diod. 21.12; further on Getic possessions above the Danube, Paus. 1.9 with Delev 2000, 393, who seems rather too skeptical; on poverty, cf. Ballesteros Pastor 2003). This was the kind of discourse more familiarly found among Scythians, proud and blunt in the strength of their poverty. However, as Herodotus makes clear, simple pastoralism was not the whole story as one advanced round into Scythia. For he observes the agriculture practiced north and west of Olbia. These were the lands of the Alizones and the people he calls the Scythian Ploughmen, not least to distinguish them from the Royal Scythians east of Olbia, in whose outlook, he says, these agriculturalist Scythians were their inferiors, their slaves (Hdt. 4.20). The key point here is that, as we began to see with the Getan grain-fields of Alexander’s day, there was scope for Thracian agriculturalists to maintain their lifestyles if they moved north of the Danube, the steppe notwithstanding. It is true that it is movement in the other direction that tends to catch the eye, but there are indications in the literary tradition and, especially, in the archaeological record that there was also significant movement northward from Thrace across the Danube and the Desert of the Getae beyond it.
Greek literary sources were not much concerned with Thracian migration into Scythia, but we should observe the occasional indications of that process in very different texts and contexts. At the level of myth, it is to be remembered that Amazons were regularly considered to be of Thracian ethnicity from Archaic times onward and so are often depicted in Thracian dress in Greek art (Bothmer 1957; cf. Sparkes 1997): while they are most familiar on the south coast of the Black Sea, east of Sinope, they were also located on the north coast, especially east of the Don (the ancient Tanais). Herodotus reports an origin-story of the Sauromatians there, according to which this people had been created by the union of some Scythian warriors with Amazons captured on the south coast and then washed up on the coast of Scythia (4.110). While the story is unhistorical, it is not without importance. First, it reminds us that passage north from the Danube was not the only way that Thracians, Thracian influence, and Thracian culture might find their way into Scythia. There were many more and less circuitous routes, especially by sea, that could bring Thrace into Scythia. Secondly, the myth offered some ideological basis for the Sauromatian settlement in Thrace that Strabo records, for Sauromatians might claim a Thracian origin through their Amazon forebears. Finally, rather as we saw that Heracles could bring together some of the peoples of the region, we should also observe that Ares, whose earthly home was located in Thrace by a strong Greek and Roman tradition, seems also to have been a deity of special significance and special cult among the Scythians. So much was appropriate, especially from a Classical perspective, in associations between these two peoples, whose fame resided especially in their capacity for war.
This broad picture of cultural contact, interaction, and osmosis, beyond simple conflict, provides the context for a range of archaeological discoveries, which – if examined separately – may seem to offer no more than a scatter of peculiarities. Here we must acknowledge especially the pioneering work of Melyukova, who has done most to develop thinking on Thracian–Scythian interaction. As she pointed out, we have a good example of Thracian–Scythian osmosis as early as the mid-seventh century bce at Tsarev Brod in northeastern Bulgaria, where a warrior’s burial combines elements of Scythian and Thracian culture (Melyukova 1965). For, while the manner of his burial and many of the grave goods find parallels in Scythia and not Thrace, there are also goods which would be odd in a Scythian burial and more at home in a Thracian one of this period (notably a Hallstatt vessel, an iron knife, and a gold diadem). Also interesting in this regard are several stone figures found in the Dobrudja which resemble very closely figures of this kind (baby) known from Scythia (Melyukova 1965, 37–38). They range in date from perhaps the sixth to the third centuries bce, and presumably were used there – as in Scythia – to mark the burials of leading Scythians deposited in the area. Is this cultural osmosis? We should probably expect osmosis to occur in tandem with the movement of artefacts, so that only good contexts can really answer such questions from case to case. However, the broad pattern is indicated by a range of factors. Particularly notable in this regard is the observable development of a Thraco-Scythian form of what is more familiar as “Scythian animal style,” a term which – it must be understood – already embraces a range of types as we examine the different examples of the style across the great expanse from Siberia to the western Ukraine. As Melyukova observes, Thrace shows both items made in this style among Scythians and, more numerous and more interesting, a Thracian tendency to adapt that style to local tastes, with observable regional distinctions within Thrace itself. Among the Getae and Odrysians the adaptation seems to have been at its height from the later fifth century to the mid-third century (Melyukova 1965, 38; 1979).
The absence of local animal style in Bulgaria before the fifth century bce confirms that we have cultural influences and osmosis at work here, though that is not to say that Scythian tradition somehow dominated its Thracian counterpart, as has been claimed (pace Melyukova 1965, 39; contrast Kitov 1980 and 1984). Of particular interest here is the horse-gear (forehead-covers, cheek-pieces, bridle fittings, and so on) which is found extensively in Romania and Bulgaria as well as in Scythia, both in hoarded deposits and in burials. This exemplifies the development of a regional animal style, not least in silver and bronze, which problematizes the whole issue of the place(s) of its production. Accordingly, the regular designation as “Thracian” of horse-gear from the rich fourth century Scythian burial of Oguz in the Ukraine becomes at least awkward and questionable (further, Fialko 1995). And let us be clear that this is no minor matter, nor even part of a broader debate about the shared development of toreutics among Thracians and Scythians (e.g., Kitov 1980 and 1984). A finely equipped horse of fine quality was a strong statement and striking display of wealth and the power it implied
(…) while Thracian pottery appears at Olbia, Scythian pottery among Thracians is largely confined to the eastern limits of what should probably be regarded as Getic territory, namely the area close to the west of the Dniester, from the sixth century bce. Rather exceptional then is the Scythian pottery noted at Istros, which has been explained as a consequence of the Scythian pursuit of the withdrawing army of Darius and, possibly, a continued Scythian grip on the southern Danube in its aftermath (Melyukova 1965, 34). The archaeology seems to show us, therefore, that the elite Thracians and Scythians were more open to adaptation and acculturation than were their lesser brethren.
(…) we see distinct peoples and organizations, for example as Sitalces’ forces line up against the Scythians. Much more striking, however, against that general background, are the various ways in which the two peoples and their elites are seen to interact, connect, and share a cultural interface. We see also in Scyles’ story how the Greek cities on the coast of Thrace and Scythia played a significant role in the workings of relationships between the two peoples. It is not simply that these cities straddled the Danube, but also that they could collaborate – witness the honors for Autocles, ca. 300 bce (SEG 49.1051; Ochotnikov 2006) – and were implicated with the interactions of the much greater non-Greek powers around them. At the same time, we have seen the limited reality of familiar distinctions between settled Thracians and nomadic Scythians and the limited role of the Danube too in dividing Thrace and Scythia. The interactions of the two were not simply matters of dynastic politics and the occasional shared taste for artefacts like horse-gear, but were more profoundly rooted in the economic matrix across the region, so that “Scythian” nomadism might flourish in the Dobrudja and “Thracian-style” agriculture and settlement can be traced from Thrace across the Danube as far as Olbia. All of that offers scant justification for the Greek tendency to run together Thracians and Scythians as much the same phenomenon, not least as irrational, ferocious, and rather vulgar barbarians (e.g., Plato, Rep. 435b), because such notions were the result of ignorance and chauvinism. However, Herodotus did not share those faults to any degree, so that we may take his ready movement from Scythians to Thracians to be an indication of the importance of interaction between the two peoples whom he had encountered not only as slaves in the Aegean world, but as powerful forces in their own lands (e.g., Hdt. 4.74, where Thracian usage is suddenly brought into his account of Scythian hemp). Similarly, Thucydides, who quite without need breaks off his disquisition on the Odrysians to remark upon political disunity among the Scythians (Thuc. 2.97, a favorite theme: cf. Hdt. 4.81; Xen., Cyr. 1.1.4). As we have seen throughout this discussion, there were many reasons why Thracians might turn the thoughts of serious writers to Scythians and vice versa.
It seems, following Sikora et al. (2014), that Thracian ‘common’ populations would have more Anatolian Neolithic ancestry compared to more ‘steppe-like’ samples. But there were important differences even between the two nearby samples published from Bulgaria, which may account for the close interaction between Scythians and Thracians we see in Krzewińska et al. (2018), potentially reflected in the differences between the Central, Southern and the South-Central clusters (possibly related to different periods rather than peoples??).
If these R1b-Z2103 were descended from Thracian elites, this would be the first proof of Palaeo-Balkan populations showing mainly R1b-Z2103, as I expect. Their appearance together with haplogroup I2a2a1b1 (also found in Ukraine Neolithic and in the Yamna outlier from Bulgaria) seem to support this regional continuity, and thus a long-lasting cultural and ethnic border roughly around the Danube, similar to the one found in the northern Caucasus.
However, since these samples are some 2,500 years younger than the Yamna expansion to the south, and they are archaeologically Scythians, it is impossible to say. In any case, it would seem that the main expansion of R1a-Z645 lineages to the south of the Danube – and therefore those found among modern Greeks – was mediated by the Slavic expansions centuries later.
On the Northern cluster there is a sample of haplogroup R1b-P312 which, given its position on the PCA (apparently even more ‘modern Celtic’-like than the Hallstatt_Bylany sample from Damgaard et al. 2018), it seems that it could be the product of the previous eastward Hallstatt expansion…although potentially also from a recent one?:
Especially important in the archaeology of this interior is the large settlement at Nemirov in the wooded steppe of the western Ukraine, where there has been considerable excavation. This settlement’s origins evidently owe nothing significant to Greek influence, though the early east Greek pottery there (from ca. 650 bce onward: Vakhtina 2007) and what seems to be a Greek graffito hint at its connections with the Greeks of the coast, especially at Olbia, which lay at the estuary of the River Bug on whose middle course the site was located (Braund 2008). The main interest of the site for the present discussion, however, is its demonstrable participation in the broader Hallstatt culture to its west and south (especially Smirnova 2001). Once we consider Nemirov and the forest steppe in connection with Olbia and the other locations across the forest steppe and coastal zone, together with the less obvious movements across the steppe itself, we have a large picture of multiple connectivities in which Thrace bulks large.
While the above description of clear-cut R1a-Steppe and R1b-Balkans is attractive (and probably more reliable than admixture found in scattered samples of unclear dates), the true ancient genetic picture is more complicated than that:
There is nothing in the material culture of the published western Scythians to distinguish the supposed Thracian elites.
We have the sample I0575, an Early Sarmatian from the southern Urals (one of the few available) of haplogroup R1b-Z2106, which supports the presence of R1b-Z2103 lineages among Eastern Iranian-speaking peoples.
We also have DA30, a Sarmatian of I2b lineage from the central steppes in Kazakhstan (ca. 47 BC – 24 AD).
Other Sarmatian samples of haplogroup R remain undefined.
There is R1a-Z93 in a late Sarmatian-Hun sample, which complicates the picture of late pastoralist nomads further.
Therefore, the possibility of hidden pockets of Iranian peoples of R1b-Z2103 (maybe also R1b-P312) lineages remains the best explanation, and should not be discarded simply because of the prevalent haplogroups among modern populations, or because of the different clusters found, or else we risk an obvious circular reasoning: “this sample is not (autosomically or in prevalent haplogroups) like those we already had from the steppe, ergo it is not from this or that steppe culture.” Hopefully, the upcoming paper by Järve et al. will help develop a clearer genetic transect of Iranian populations from the steppes.
All in all, the diversity among western Scythians represents probably one of the earliest difficult cases of acculturation to be studied with ancient DNA (obviously not the only one), since Scythians combine unclear archaeological data with limited and conflicting proto-historical accounts (also difficult to contrast with the wide confidence intervals of radiocarbon dates) with different evolving clusters and haplogroups – especially in border regions with strong and continued interactions of cultures and peoples.
With emerging complex cases like these during the Iron Age, I am happy to see that at least earlier expansions show clearer Y-DNA bottlenecks, or else genetics would only add more data to argue about potential cultural diffusion events, instead of solving questions about proto-language expansions once and for all…
I find it interesting that many geneticists would question the simplistic approach to the Out of Africa model as it is often enunciated, but they would at the same time consider the current simplistic model of Yamna expansion essentially right; a model – if anyone is lost here – based on proportions of the so-called Yamnaya™ ancestral component, as found in a small number of samples, from four or five Eneolithic–Chalcolithic cultures spanning more than a thousand years.
These wrong interpretations have been now substituted by data from two new early samples from the Baltic, which cluster closely to Yamna, and which – based on the Y-DNA and PCA cluster formed by all Corded Ware samples – are likely the product of female exogamy with Yamna peoples from the neighbouring North Pontic region (as we are seeing, e.g. in the recent Nikitin et al. 2018).
NOTE. There is also another paper from Nikitin et al. (2017), with more ancient mtDNA, “Subdivisions of haplogroups U and C encompass mitochondrial DNA lineages of Eneolithic-Early Bronze Age Kurgan populations of western North Pontic steppe”. Link to paper (behind paywall). Most interesting data is summarized in the following table:
Even after the publication of Olalde et al. (2018) and Wang et al. (2018) – where expanding Yamna settlers and Bell Beakers are clearly seen highly admixed within a few generations, and are found spread across a wide Eurasian cline (sharing one common invariable trait, the paternally inherited haplogroup, as supported by David Reich) – fine-scale studies of population structure and social dynamics is still not a thing for many, even though it receives more and more advocates among geneticists (e.g. Lazaridis, or Veeramah).
NOTE. I have tried to explain, more than once, that the nature and origin of the so-called “Yamnaya ancestry” (then “steppe ancestry”, and now subdivided further as Steppe_EMBA and Steppe_MLBA) is not known with precision before Yamna samples of ca. 3000 BC, and especially that it is not necessarily a marker of Indo-European speakers. Why some people are adamant that steppe ancestry and thus R1a must be Indo-European is mostly related to a combination of grandaddy’s haplogroup, the own modern ethnolinguistic attribution, and an aversion to sharing grandpa with other peoples and cultures.
In the meantime, we are seeing the “Yamnaya proportion” question often reversed: “how do we make Corded Ware stem from Yamna, now that we believed it?”. This is a funny circular reasoning, akin to the one used by proponents of the Franco-Cantabrian origin of R1b, when they look now at EEF proportions in Iberian R1b-L23 samples. It seems too comic to be true.
R1a and steppe ancestry
The most likely origin of haplogroup R1a-Z645 is to be found in eastern Europe. Samples published in the last year support this region as a sort of cradle of R1a expansions:
I1819, Y-DNA R1a1-M459, mtDNA U5b2, Ukraine Mesolithic ca. 8825-8561 calBCE, from Vasilievka.
I0061, hg R1a1-M459 (xR1a1a-M17), mtDNA C1, ca. 6773-6000 calBCE (with variable dates), from Yuzhnyy Oleni Ostrov in Karelia.
Samples LOK_1980.006 and LOK_1981.024.01, of hg MR1a1a-M17, mtDNA F, Baikalic cultures, dated ca. 5500-5000 BC.
Sample I0433, hg R1a1-M459(xM198), mtDNA U5a1i, from Samara Eneolithic, ca. 5200-4000 BCE
Samples A3, A8, A9, of hg R1a1-M459, mtDNA H, from sub-Neolithic cultures (Comb Ware and Zhizhitskaya) at Serteyea, although dates (ca. 5th-3rd millennium BC) need possibly a revision (from Chekunova 2014).
NOTE. The fact that Europe is better sampled than North Asia, coupled with the finding of R1a-M17 in Baikalic cultures, poses some problems as to the precise origin of this haplogroup and its subclades. While the first (Palaeolithic or Mesolithic) expansion was almost certainly from Northern Eurasia to the west – due to the Mal’ta sample – , it is still unknown if the different subclades of R1a in Europe are the result of local developments, or rather different east—west migrations through North Eurasia.
Y-Full average estimates pointed to R1a-M417 formation ca. 6500 BC, TMRCA ca. 3500 BC, and R1a-Z645 formation ca. 3300 BC, TMRCA ca. 2900 BC, so the most likely explanation was that R1a-Z645 and its subclades – similar to R1b-L23 subclades, but slightly later) expanded quickly with the expansion of Corded Ware groups.
The presence of steppe ancestry in Ukraine Eneolithic sample I6561, of haplogroup R1a-M417, from Alexandria, dated ca. 4045-3974 calBCE, pointed to the forest steppe area and late Sredni Stog as the most likely territory from where the haplogroup related to the Corded Ware culture expanded.
However, the more recent Y-SNP call showing R1a-Z93 (L657) subclade rendered Y-Full’s (at least formation) estimates too young, so we have to rethink the actual origin of both subclades, R1a-Z93 (formation ca. 2900 BC, TMRCA ca 2700 BC), and R1a-Z283 (formation ca. 2900 BC, TMRCA ca. 2800 BC).
Contrary to what we thought before this, then, it is possible that the expansion of Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka chieftains through the steppes, around the mid-5th millennium BC, had something to do with the expansion of R1a-Z645 to the north, in the forest steppe.
We could think that the finding of Z93 in Alexandria after the expansion of Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka chiefs would make it more likely that R1a-Z645 will be found in the North Pontic area. However, given that Lower Mikhailovka and Kvitjana seem to follow a steppe-related cultural tradition, different to forest steppe cultures (like Dereivka and Alexandria), and that forest steppe cultures show connections to neighbouring northern and western forest regions, the rest of the expanding R1a-Z645 community may not be related directly to the steppe at all.
Adding a hypothetical split and expansion of Z645 subclades to the mid-/late-5th millennium could place the expansion of this haplogroup to the north and west, pushed by expanding Middle PIE-speaking steppe peoples from the east:
This is what Włodarczak (2017) says about the emergence of Corded Ware with ‘steppe features’ after the previous expansion of such features in Central Europe with Globular Amphorae peoples. He refers here to the Złota culture (appearing ca. 2900-2800 BC) in Lesser Poland, believed to be the (or a) transitional stage between GAC and Corded Ware, before the emergence of the full-fledged “Corded Ware package”.
So far, to the north of the Carpathian Mountains, including Polish lands, no graves indicating their relationship with communities of the steppe zone have been found. On the contrary, the funeral rites always display a local, central European nature. However, individual elements typical of steppe communities do appear, such as the “frog-like” arrangement of the body (Fig. 20), or items associated with Pit Grave milieux (cf. Klochko, Kośko 2009; Włodarczak 2014). A spectacular example of the latter is the pointed-base vessel of Pit Grave culture found at the cemetery in Święte, site 11 near Jarosław (Kośko et al. 2012). These finds constitute a confirmation of the importance of the relationships between communities of Pit Grave culture and Corded Ware culture. They are chronologically diverse, although most of them are dated to 2600-2400 BC – that is, to the “classic” period of Corded Ware culture.
However, when discussing the relationships with the steppe communities, Polish lands deserve particular attention since part of the groups inhabiting it belonged to the eastern province of Corded Ware culture (cf. Häusler 2014), which neighboured Pit Grave culture both from the east and south. In addition, there was a tradition of varied relationships with the north Pontic zone, which began to intensify from the second half of the 4th millennium BC (Kośko, Szmyt, 2009; Kośko, Klochko, 2009). These connections are especially readable in Małopolska and Kujawy (Kośko 2014; Włodarczak 2014). The emergence of the community of Globular Amphora culture in the north Pontic zone at the end of the 4th and the beginnings of the 3rd millennium BC (Szmyt 1999) became a harbinger of a cultural closening between the worlds of central Europe and the steppe.
The second important factor taking place at that time was the expansion of the people of Pit Grave culture in a westerly direction, along the Danube thoroughfare. As a result of this, also to the south of the Carpathian Mountains, e.g., along the upper Tisza River, a new “kurgan” cultural system was formed. As one outcome, the areas of central Europe, above all Małopolska, found themselves in the vicinity of areas inhabited by communities characterized by new principles of social organization and a new funeral rite. Around 2800 BC these changes became evident in different regions of Poland, with the most numerous examples being documented in south-eastern Poland and Kujawy. The nature of the funeral rite and the features of the material culture perceptible at that time do not have straight forward analogies in the world of north Pontic communities. In this respect, the “A-horizon” is a phenomenon of local, central European origin. The events preceding the emergence of the said horizon (that is, the expansion of the people of Pit Grave culture into the area north of the arc of the Carpathians) are nowadays completely unidentifiable and remain merely an interesting theoretical matter (cf. e.g., Kośko 2000). Therefore, analysis of the archaeological sources cannot confirm the first archaeogenetic analysis suggesting a bond between the communities of the Pit Grave culture and Corded Ware culture (e.g., Haak et al. 2015).
Artefacts of the “A-horizon”, i.e., shaft-hole axes, amphorae (Fig. 21), beakers, and pots with a plastic wavy strip (Fig. 7) are found in different funerary and settlement contexts, sometimes jointly with finds having characteristics of various cultures (e.g., in graves of Złota culture, or at settlements of Rzucewo culture). Hence, they primarily represent a chronological phase (c. 2800-2600 BC), one obviously related to the expansion of a new ideology.
Eastern CWC expansion
Before continuing tracing the Corded Ware culture’s main features, it is worth it to trace first their movement forward in time, as Corded Ware settlers, from Poland to the east.
The colonizing Neolithic waves are continued by the Circum-Baltic Corded Ware culture, closely related to the traditions of the Single Grave culture and traditions of the Northern European Lowlands. After ca. 2900 BC, certain cultural systems with ‘corded’ traits –genetically related to the catchment area of the south-western Baltic – appear in the drainages of the Nemen, Dvina, Upper Dnieper, and even the Volga. These communities are considered the vector of Neolithisation in the Forest Zone.
The picture in the Baltic (Pamariu / Rzucewo) and Finland (Battle Axe) is thus more or less clearly connected with early dates ca. 2900-2800 BC:
There is a clear interaction sphere between the eastern Gulf of Finland area – reaching from Estonia to the areas of present-day Finland and the Karelian Isthmus in Russia –, evidenced e.g. by the sharp-butted axes, derived from the Estonian Karlova axe.
Interesting in this regard is the expansion of the Corded Ware culture in Finland, into a far greater territory than previously thought, that is poorly represented in most maps depicting the extent of the culture in Europe. Here is summary of CWC findings in Finland, using images from Nordqvist and Häkäla (2014):
Middle Dnieper and Fatyanovo
The earliest Middle Dnieper remains are related to CWC graves between the Upper Vistula and the Bug, containing pottery with Middle Dnieper traits, dated probably ca. 2700 BC, which links it with the expansion of the A-horizon. In fact, during the period ca. 2800-2400 BC, the area of Lesser Poland (with its numerous kurgans and catacomb burials) is considered the western fringe of an area spreading to the east, to the middle Dniester and middle Dnieper river basins, i.e. regions bordering the steppe oecumene. This ‘eastern connection’ of funeral ritual, raw materials, and stylistic traits of artefacts is also identified in some graves of the Polish Lowlands (Włodarczak 2017).
The Fatyanovo (or Fatyanovo-Balanovo) culture was the easternmost group of the Corded Ware culture, and occupied the centre of the Russian Plain, from Lake Ilmen and the Upper Dnieper drainage to the Wiatka River and the middle course of the Volga. From the few available dates, the oldest ones from the plains of the Moskva river, and from the late Volosovo culture containing also Fatyanovo materials, and in combination they show a date of ca. 2700 BC for its appearance in the region. The Volosovo culture of foragers eventually disappeared when the Fatyanovo culture expanded into the Upper and Middle Volga basin.
The origin of the culture is complicated, because it involves at its earliest stage different Corded Ware influences in neighbouring sites, at least on the Moskva river plains (Krenke et al. 2013): some materials (possibly earlier) show Circum-Baltic and Polish features; other sites show a connection to western materials, in turn a bridge to the Middle Dnieper culture. This suggests that groups belonging to different groups of the corded ware tradition penetrated the Moscow region.
The split of subclades Z93 – Z283
If we take into account that the split between R1-Z93 and R1a-Z283 must have happened during the 5th millennium BC, we have R1a-Z93 likely around the middle Dnieper area (as supported by the Alexandria sample), and R1a-Z283 possibly to the north(-west), so that it could have expanded easily into Central Europe, and – through the northern, Baltic region – to the east.
Where exactly lies the division is unclear, but for the moment all reported Circum-Baltic samples with Z645 subclades seem to belong to Z282, while R1a samples from Sintashta/Potapovka (including the Poltavka outlier) point to Abashevo being dominated by R1a-Z93 subclades.
We have to assume, then, that an original east-west split betwen R1a-Z283 and R1a-Z93 turned, in the eastern migrations, into a north-south split between Z282 and Z93, where Finland and Battle Axe in general is going to show Z282, and Middle Dnieper – Abashevo Z93 subclades.
I can think of two reasons why this is important:
Depending on how Proto-Corded Ware peoples expanded, we may be talking about one community overcoming the other and imposing its language. Because either
clans of both Z93 and Z283 were quite close and kept intense cultural contacts around Dnieper-Dniester area; or
if the split is as early as the 5th millennium BC, and both communities separated then without contact, we are probably going to see a difference in the language spoken by both of them.
In any case, the main north-south division of eastern Corded Ware groups is pointing to an important linguistic division within the Uralic-speaking communities, specifically between a Pre-Finno-Ugric and a Pre-Samoyedic one, and potentially between Pre-Finno-Permic and Pre-Ugric.
These may seem irrelevant questions – especially for people interested only in Indo-European migrations. However, for those interested in the history of Eurasian peoples and languages as a whole, they are relevant: even those who support an ‘eastern’ origin of Proto-Uralic, like Häkkinen, or Parpola (who are, by the way, in the minority, because most Uralicists would point to eastern Europe well before the Yamna expansion), place the Finno-Ugric expansion with the Netted Ware culture as the latest possible Finno-Ugric immigrants in Fennoscandia.
The Netted Ware culture
The image below shows the approximate expansion of Corded Ware peoples of Battle Axe traditions in Finland, as well as neighbouring Fennoscandian territories, from ca. 2800 BC until the end of the 3rd millennium. A controversial 2nd (late) wave of the so-called Estonian Corded Ware is popular in texts about this region, but has not been substantiated, and it seems to be a regional development, rather than the product of migrations.
As we have seen, Fatyanovo represents the most likely cultural border zone between Circum-Baltic peoples reaching from the Russian Battle Axe to the south, and Middle Dnieper peoples reaching from Abashevo to the north. In that sense, it also represents the most likely border culture between north-western (mainly R1a-Z282) and south-eastern (R1a-Z93) subclades.
With worsening climatic conditions (cooler seasons) at the end of the 3rd millennium, less settlements are apparent in the archaeological record in Finland. After ca. 2000 BC, two CWC-related cultures remain: in the coast, the Kiukainen culture, derived from the original Circum-Baltic Corded Ware settlers, reverts to a subsistence economy which includes hunting and fishing, and keeps mainly settlements (from the best territories) along the coast. In the inland, Netted Ware immigrants eventually appear from the south.
The Netted Ware culture emerged in the Upper Volga–Oka region, derived from the Abashevo culture and its interaction with the Seima-Turbino network, and spread ca. 1900-1800 BC to the north into Finland, spreading into eastern regions previously occupied by cultures producing asbestos and organic-tempered wares (Parpola 2018).
NOTE. Those ‘contaminated’ by the Copenhagen fantasy map series may think that Volosovo hunter-gatherers somehow survived the expansion of Fatyanovo-Balanovo and Abashevo, hidden for hundreds of years in the forest, and then reappeared and expanded the Netted Ware culture. Well, they didn’t. At least not in archaeological terms, and certainly not with the genetic data we have.
If we combine all this information, and we think about these peoples in terms of Pre-Finno-Permic and Pre-Ugric languages developing side by side, we get a really interesting picture (see here for Proto-Fennic estimates):
The Battle Axe around the Baltic Sea – including the Gulf of Finland and Scandinavia – would be the area of expansion of Pre-Finno-Permic peoples, of R1a-Z283 subclades, which became later concentrated mainly on coastal regions;
the southern areas may correspond to Pre-Ugric peoples, which expanded later to the north with Netted Ware (see image below) – their precise subclades may be dependent on what will be found in Fatyanovo;
and Pre-Samoyedic peoples (of R1a-Z93 subclades) would have become isolated somewhere in the Cis- or (more likely) Trans-Urals region after 2000 BC, possibly from the interaction of the latest Balanovo stages and the Seima-Turbino phenomenon.
These communities in contact would have allowed for:
the known Indo-Iranian loanwords in Finno-Ugric to spread through a continuum of early dialects formed by Abashevo – Fatyanovo – Battle Axe groups;
the important Palaeo-Germanic loanwords in Finno-Saamic spreading with long-term contacts (from Pre-Germanic to the Proto-Germanic, and later North Germanic period) through the Baltic Sea, between Scandinavia and the Gulf of Finland;
and Tocharian contacts with Samoyedic (although limited, and in part controversial), which point to its early expansion to the east of the Ural Mountains.
On the other hand, if one is inclined to believe that R1a and steppe ancestry do represent Indo-European speakers… which language was spoken from the Gulf of Finland well into the north, the inland, and Karelia, and in Northern Russia, by Corded Ware peoples and their cultural heirs (like Kiukainen or Netted Ware) for almost three thousand years?
After the expansion of Bell Beaker peoples, the geographic distribution of late Corded Ware groups in the second half of the 3rd millennium, just before their demise – and before the expansion of Netted Ware to the north – , can be depicted thus as follows:
Territories in cyan must then represent, for some people who believe in an archaic Indo-Slavonic of sorts, the famous Fennoscandian Balto-Slavic to the north (before they were displaced by incoming Finno-Saamic peoples of hg N1c during the Iron Age and up to the Middle Ages); and the also famous Tundra-Forest Indo-Iranian in the Upper Volga area, a great environment for the development of the two-wheeled chariot…
But let’s leave the discussion on imaginary IE dialects for another post, and continue with the real question at hand.
A steppe funerary connection?
Back to Złota as a transitional culture, we have already seen how the corded ware vessels characteristic of the Classic CWC are related to Globular Amphora tradition, and show no break with this culture. It is usually believed that the funerary rites were adopted from steppe influence, too. That is probably right; but it does not mean that it came from Yamna or other coeval (or previous) steppe culture; at least not directly.
NOTE. A similar problem is seen when we read that Mierzanowice or Trzciniec show “Corded Ware” traits from a neighbouring CWC group, when CWC groups disappeared long before these cultures emerged. For cultural groups that are separated centuries from each other, an assertion as to their relationship needs specifics in terms of dates and material connection, or it is plainly wrong.
These are the funerary ritual features from Złota (later specialized in Corded Ware), as described by Włodarczak (2017):
Single burial graves; along with the habit of interring the deceased in multiple burial graves, but emphasizing their individual character by careful deposition of the body and personal nature of the grave goods.
Grave goods with materials and stylistiscs belonging to an older system (e.g. amber products); and others correlated to the ‘new world’ of the CWC, such as flint products made of the raw materials tipical of Lesser Poland’s CWC, copper ornaments, stone shaft-hole axes, bone and shell ornaments, and characteristic forms of vessels like beakers and amphoras.
Military goods, which would become prevalent in later periods, are present in a moderate number, compatible with their lesser importance.
There are also cases of the characteristic catacomb (“niche”) graves – with an entrance pit, a more extensive niche, and a narrow corridor leading to a vault – , as well as some individual cases of application of ochre and deformation of skulls.
It seems that the Złota funerary tradition was also “transitional”, like corded ware vessels, into the classical Corded Ware ideology. But “transitional” from what exactly? Yamna? Probably not.
The Lublin-Volhynia culture
One needs not look for a too distant culture to find similarities. Włodarczak (2017) points to CWC in south-eastern Poland and Kuyavia showing, by the time of the Yamna expansion, a funeral rite and features of the material culture without straightforward analogies in the world of north Pontic communities, and thus suggests that the “A-horizon” is a local phenomenon of central European origin.
This assertion is interesting, in so far as most Corded Ware samples investigated to date seem to come precisely from an East-Central territory near the Ukraine forest steppe, with a cluster already established by the end of the 5th millennium:
The following text is from Stanisław Wilk (2018), about the Lublin-Volhynian (and related) cemeteries at Wyciąże and Książnice:
Regardless of the differences between the two necropolises (such as the number of burials, the area which has been explored, the orientation and layout of burials), it seems that they have several key elements in common:
concentration of graves in separate cemeteries;
differentiation of burials with regard to sex (the principle of the ‘left ̶ right’ side, different burial goods for males and females);
stratification of graves with regard to the richness of their inventories (this mainly applied to copper artefacts);
occurrence of indicators of the richest male burials (a copper dagger in Wyciąże, a copper battle axe, a small axe and a chisel in Książnice);
allocation of a separate area for elite burials (the eastern burial area in Książnice, and the southeastern and north-central part of the necropolis in Wyciąże), as well as one for egalitarian burials (the western area in Książnice, and the south-central and western part of the cemetery in Wyciąże).
The above-mentioned characteristics prove that the patterns of social and religious behaviours from areas lying beyond the Carpathian Mountains exerted a strong influence on the two societies living in Lesser Poland.
Anna Zakościelna, while describing the similarities between the burial ritual of the late Polgár groups and cultures from areas on the Tisza river and the Lublin-Volhynia culture, claimed that:
a characteristic feature of the burial ritual of both cultures was practicing various group norms, which required different treatment of the deceased depending on their sex, age and social rank. As in the Lublin-Volhynia culture, the opposition ‘male – female’ can the most clearly be observed ̶ particularly, in the consistent positioning of males on the right, and females, on the left side. And, there is much indication that this ritual norm divided the deceased from early childhood (Sofaer Derevensky 1997: 877, Tab. 1; Lichter 2001: 276- 280, 322-323) (Zakościelna 2010: 227-228).
It seems that these observations can also be extended to the Wyciąże-Złotniki group.
Another question is whether the evidence of the influences of the copper civilization observed in both cemeteries emerged as a result of the literal copying of patterns from the south, or whether the latter were only a source of inspiration for local solutions.
Looking at this problem form the perspective of the details of burial ritual, between the Carpathian Basin and Lesser Poland, we can observe clear differences, among others, in the size of cemeteries and orientation of burials. While, in the Carpathian Basin there were large necropolises, consisting of several dozen burials located in rows, with the dominant orientation along the SE-NW and E-W axis (Lichter 2001: Abb. 123, 143; Kadrow 2008: 87); in Lesser Poland there were small cemeteries of several to a dozen or so burials, mostly oriented along the S-N axis (in the Lublin-Volhynia culture; Zakościelna 2010: 66), as well as S-E and NE-SW (in the Wyciąże-Złotniki group; Kaczanowska 2009: 77). Similarly, there are differences in the details of the burial goods. North of the Carpathians, there is a much smaller frequency of copper artefacts, particularly in the group of prestigious, heavy items (battle axes, axes and daggers), as well as a complete lack of objects made of gold. Want is more, the pottery found in the graves has a distinct local character, only supplemented by imitating or imports from areas beyond the Carpathians (Zakościelna 2006: 85; Nowak 2014: 273; a different opinion Kozłowski 2006: 57). Therefore, the suggestion made by Nowak seems right ̶ namely, that these influences were not caused by migrations of groups of the population living on the Tisza river to Lesser Poland, but were rather due to processes of selective cultural transmission (Nowak 2014: 273).
Therefore, the sharing of a similar funerary rite (as happened later between Lublin-Volhynia and Złota), although it shows a strong cultural connection with autochthonous cultures, is obviously not the same as sharing ancestors; and even if it were so, they would not need to be paternal ancestors. But it shows that important Corded Ware cultural traits are local developments, and it disconnects thus still more supposed CWC ‘steppe traits’ from steppe cultures, and connects them with the first steppe-related cultural wave that reached central Europe in the 5th millennium BC.
Prehistoric Pontic—Caspian links
How would a Lublin-Volhynia culture be related to the North Pontic area ca. 4500-3000 BC? We can enjoy the map series of Baltic—Pontic migrations by Viktor Klochko (2009), and make a wild guess:
In the second half of the 5th millennium BC (horizon 1), communities of the Tripolye culture, phases BI-BII, had contacts with the population of the late (IIa) phase of the Malice culture. The areas settled by both cultural complexes were located at a great distance from each other. The communities of the Tripolye culture adopted selected features of Malice ceramic production (fig 2). This seems to have resulted from marital exchange: on a moderate scale, Tripolye men sought out their wives in the area of the Malice culture and, according to patrilocal marriage customs, the women then moved to the Tripolye settlements, sporadically transferring ready-made ceramic products, so-called imports, to the Tripolye culture. Thus, the wives were responsible for the considerably more numerous imitations of the Malice ceramics and the long-lasting, though selective, traditions of Malice pottery passed down in their new environment. The patrilocal marriage customs involving the Malice women and the Tripolye men (never the other way round), and the fact that pottery was women’s domain, led to the unidirectional transfer of vessels, technology and norms of ceramic production from the Malice culture to the Tripolye culture.
The turn of the 5th and the 4th millennia and the early 4th millennium BC (horizon 2) witnessed the deepening interaction between the populations of the youngest (IIb) phase of the Malice culture and the classic (II) phase of the Lublin-Volhynia culture on the one hand and the communities of phase BII of the Tripolye culture on the other. The Danube and the Tripolye settlement complexes came into contact on the upper Dniester and between the Styr and the Horyn rivers in Volhynia. This helped to continue the previous forms of marital exchange, which resulted in further popularisation of the ceramics and the traditions of ceramic production typical of the Danube cultures, i.e. the Malice and the Lublin-Volhynia cultures, and also the Polgár culture, in the areas settled by the Tripolye cultural complex.
As the civilizational norms of the Eneolithic (Copper) Age became widespread in that period, the forms of interaction described above acquired new elements. The deepening internal diversification of the early Eneolithic communities of the Lublin-Volhynia culture led to a growing demand for prestige objects, which was met with import or imitation of copper artefacts, mainly those from the Carpathian Basin, and with flint tools produced from long blades. That type of flint production depended largely on new technologies derived from the Tripolye culture, as proven by such borrowings as troughlike retouch or the very idea and technology for the production of long flint blades in the Lublin-Volhynia culture. It seems that the influx of Tripolye settlers into flintbearing areas in Volhynia and on the upper Dniester, adjacent to the settlement centres of the late phase of the Malice culture and the Lublin-Volhynia culture, created sufficient conditions for the expanding influence of the Tripolye flint working on the communities of the Eneolithic Lublin-Volhynia culture.
In the mid-4th millennium BC (horizon 3), those forms of interaction between the Danube communities (the late phase of the Lublin-Volhynian culture) and the Tripolye communities (phase CI)were continued. Elements of the Danube pottery still grew in popularity in the Tripolye population, while selected features of the Tripolye flint working were adopted by the Lublin-Volhynia culture.
In that period, the population of the Funnel Beaker culture of the pre-classic and early classic phases (the beginnings of Gródek 1 and Bronocice III), until then absent from those areas, quite quickly drove out and replaced the Danube population in western Volhynia and the upper Dniester basin. This caused significant changes in the forms and intensity of the intercultural interaction, which became fully apparent already in the 2nd half of the 4th millennium BC.
In the following period (horizon 4), the population of the classic phase of the Funnel Beaker culture (Gródek 1, Bronocice III) settled more and more intensively the upper Dniester basin, up to the Hnyla Lypa river, and western Volhynia, up to the Styr river. East of those rivers, the Funnel Beaker settlers created considerable areas where they mixed with settlers from early phase CII of the Tripolye culture. Their coexistence, lasting there for many generations, resulted in deepening the interactions between members of both cultural complexes and in developing entirely new forms of relationships.
The intensifying interaction between the communities of the Funnel Beaker culture and the Tripolye culture, early phase CII, in the 2nd half of the 4th millennium BC (horizon 4) was an introduction to, and perhaps a condition for, even more frequent contacts in the next period, the first centuries of the 3rd millennium BC (horizon 5). In that case, the interaction was mainly triggered by multidirectional migrations of larger human groups, involving a significant part of the population of all cultures from the areas discussed here. The Tripolye communities of younger phase CII settled Volhynia, its eastern areas in particular, from the south and the south-east, while groups representing the younger phases of the Funnel Beaker culture (Gródek 2), often with Baden features (Bronocice IV and V), moved increasingly into the western part of that region. The Yamna communities expanded along the lower and central Danube to the west, whereas the populations of the late phase of the Baden culture took the opposite direction, reaching as far as Kiev in the northeast, and contributed to the cultural character of the Sofievka group.
The communities of the Globular Amphora culture migrated from the north-west, from eastern Poland, towards the Danube Delta and as far as the Dnieper in the east, while the multicultural population from the areas around the mouth of the Danube moved in the opposite direction, carrying with them cultural elements from Thrace, or even from Anatolia. Some of them returned to the starting point (to south-eastern Poland), bringing with them a new form of pottery, so-called Thuringian amphora, borrowed from the late Trypillian Usatovo group. This resulted in origins of the Złota culture, a cultural phenomenon that gave beginnings to the oldest Corded Ware culture. Inventories of both cultures contained the already mentioned Thuringian amphorae.
Here is a more recent assessment (2017) of the latest radiocarbon analyses of the available settlements of cultures in the area, published by Marek Novak (announced in a previous post), which gives the following data on Wyciąże-Złotniki, Lublin-Volhynia, and Wyciąże/Niedźwiedź:
This scheme unambiguously suggests both the overlapping and contiguous nature of cultural development in western Lesser Poland within the Middle Neolithic. The basic elements of this development are: 1) the Wyciąże-Złotniki group and the Lublin-Volhynian culture, until c. 3650–3550 cal BC; 2) the Funnel Beaker culture proper, which appeared c. 3750–3700c al BC, and existed until c. 3300–3250 cal BC, perhaps accompanied by the Wyciąże/Niedźwiedź materials from c. 3650–3550 cal BC; and 3) the Baden culture and the Funnel Beaker/Baden assemblages from 3100 and 3300–3100 cal BC, respectively, until 2850–2750 and 2850 cal BC, with – possibly – later Funnel Beaker culture and Wyciąże/ Niedźwiedź materials, existing until c. 3100 cal BC.
The final scheme shows that the Lublin-Volhynian culture could have coincided with the Wyciąże-Złotniki group. In view of the territorial relationship between them, relations from the point of view of material culture, primarily in the field of pottery, become particularly interesting. It is relatively easy to see clear similarities between these units. However, the most evident similarities apply only to some categories of ceramics, including, for example, vessels with Scheibenhenkel handles. What is more, in the period between the late 38th and early 36th centuries BC, the early Funnel Beaker and possibly early Baden influences are superimposed on this Lublin-Volhynian/Wyciąże-Złotniki ‘mix’.
[About Corded Ware: The] development of this unit in central Europe, including western Lesser Poland,  usually point to c. 2800 cal BC (Włodarczak 2006a). (…) the calibration curve makes it possible to alternatively refer several dates earlier than c. 3100 to c. 2850–2800 cal BC.
There is no direct archaeological link of Lublin-Volhynia-related groups with Corded Ware, beyond the fact that they shared homeland and Central European (‘steppe-related’) traits, as found in the Złota culture. But there is no direct link of Yamna with Corded Ware, either, whether in terms of culture or population.
So, given the evident link of R1a-Z93 and steppe ancestry with the forest steppe ca. 4000 BC, the surrounding North Pontic areas in contact along the Dniester, Dnieper, Bug, and Prut are the best candidates for the appearance of R1a-Z283: steppe cultures to the south and south-west; sub-Neolithic (Comb Ware) groups to the north in the forest zone; and Eneolithic groups to the west and north-west.
Seeing how ‘ancestral components’ and PCA cluster can change within a few generations, the question of the spread of R1a-Z645 subclades is still not settled by a single sample in Alexandria. However, based on the explosive expansions we are seeing from small territories, it would not be surprising to find R1a-Z93 and R1a-Z283 side by side in the same small area within the forest steppe.
NOTE. An archaeological link may not mean anything relevant in genetics, especially – as in this case – when no clear migration event has been traced to date. We have seen exactly that with Kristiansen’s proposal of a long-term genetic admixture of Yamna with Trypillia and GAC to form Corded Ware, which didn’t happen. The cultural and ideological connection of CWC peoples with Lublin-Volhynian tradition may be similar to the already known connection with GAC, and not mean anything in genetic finds; at least in terms of Y-DNA haplogroup.
We believed in the 2000s that Corded Ware represented the expansion of Late Proto-Indo-European, because the modern map of haplogroup R1a showed a distribution similar to how we thought the European and Indo-Iranian languages could have expanded. This has been proven wrong, and that’s what ancient DNA is for; not to confirm the own ideas or models, or to support modern ideologies.
It is impossible to know if R1a-Z645 comes from the steppe, forest steppe, or forest zone, until more samples are published. I don’t think there will be any big surprise, no matter where it is eventually found. By now, adding linguistic reconstruction to archaeological traits, and to the genetic data from Yamna and Corded Ware settlers, the only clear pattern is that patrilineal clans expanded, during the Final Eneolithic / Chalcolithic:
Late Proto-Indo-European with Yamna and R1b-L23 subclades, given the known genomic data from Khvalynsk, Yamna, Afanasevo, Bell Beaker, Catacomb, and Poltavka—Sintashta/Potapovka.
Uralic with Corded Ware and R1a-Z645 subclades, given the known genomic data from Fennoscandia and the Forest Zone.
Everything else is just wishful thinking at this moment.
The practice of horse dentistry by contemporary nomadic peoples in Mongolia, coupled with the centrality of horse transport to Mongolian life, both now and in antiquity, raises the possibility that dental care played an important role in the development of nomadic life and domestic horse use in the past. To investigate, we conducted a detailed archaeozoological study of horse remains from tombs and ritual horse inhumations across the Mongolian Steppe, assessing evidence for anthropogenic dental modifications and comparing our findings with broader patterns in horse use and nomadic material culture.
We conducted a detailed study of archaeological horse collections spanning the past 3,200 y, including those from the Late Bronze Age DSK complex (ca. 1200–700 BCE, n = 70), Early Iron Age Slab Burial culture (ca. 700–300 BCE, n = 4), Pazyryk culture (ca. 600–200 BCE, n = 2), Late Iron Age Xiongnu Empire (ca. 200 BCE–200 CE, n = 3), Early Middle Ages post-Xiongnu period (ca. 100–550 CE, n = 3), and Turkic Khaganate (ca. 600–800 CE, n = 3).
This Late Bronze Age dental modification counts among the earliest documented instances of equine veterinary care, and the oldest known evidence for horse dentistry. At first glance, the detailed historical record of early equine veterinary care in places such as China, Greece, Rome, and Syria, which spans the late second millennium BCE through the early centuries CE (11, 15, 16), might imply that equine dentistry emerged in the sedentary civilizations of the Old World. However, the earliest textual references describe only nonsurgical medicinal treatments and make few mentions of oral health (11). Recent archaeological discoveries suggest that human care of domestic animals was practiced by hunter-gatherers as far back as the Paleolithic (46), and that pastoralists may have occasionally practiced surgical procedures on domestic animals as early as the Neolithic in Europe (47). The evidence presented here indicates that horse dentistry was developed by nomadic pastoralists living on the steppes of Mongolia and northeast Asia during the Late Bronze Age, concurrent with the local adoption of the metal bit and many centuries before the first mention of dental practices in historical accounts from sedentary Old World civilizations.
Our results reveal a fundamental link between equine dentistry and the emergence of horsemanship in the steppes of Eurasia. At the turn of the first millennium BCE, militarized, horse-mounted peoples reshaped the social and economic landscape of many areas of the Eurasian continent. Conflagrations with equestrian peoples, such as those between the Persian Empire and the Pontic “Scythians,” plagued alluvial civilizations from the Near East to India and China, while large-scale movements of people linked East and West in never-before-seen ways (48). The archaeological and historical records indicate that the earliest horseback riding was accomplished without stirrups or saddles, and probably using only bitless or organic-mouthpiece bridles (49, 50). The bronze snaffle bit, and the improved control it provided, was a key technological development that enabled the use of horseback riding for more stressful and difficult activities, such as long-distance transportation and warfare (32). We argue that these technological improvements in horse control were preceded and sustained by innovations in veterinary dentistry by nomadic peoples living in the continental interior. By increasing herd survival and mitigating behavioral and health issues caused by horse equipment, innovations in equine dentistry improved the reliability of horseback riding for ancient nomads, enabling horses to be used for nonpastoral activities like warfare, high-speed riding, and distance travel.
Archaeozoological data from Mongolian horses indicate that the nomadic practice of equine dentistry dates back more than 3,000 y to the DSK complex, a Late Bronze Age culture associated with the first mounted horseback riding and mobile pastoralism in eastern Eurasia. Attempted removal of deciduous incisors through sawing of the exterior suggests experimentation with dental extraction, but not the removal of wolf teeth. The appearance of extracted first premolars in the first millennium BCE coincides with the arrival of metal bits in the archaeological record and oral trauma linked with metal bit use, suggesting that innovations in dental practice were an adaptation to the mechanical changes in horse equipment. These bronze and metal bits provided greater control over the horse, facilitating the development of military uses for the horse, but also introduced new dental problems with the first premolar. Our results indicate that, coincident with the earliest evidence for metal bit use, wolf tooth extraction was practiced in Mongolia by ca. 750 BCE and continued through the early Middle Ages. These results push back the earliest dates for equine dentistry by more than a millennium and suggest that nomadic peoples developed key innovations in veterinary care that enabled more sophisticated horse control, ultimately changing the structure of communication, exchange, and military power in ancient Eurasia.
The test trenches at Nadir Tepesi suggest that the Kura-Araxes occupation ended abruptly in the mid third millennium B.C.E. and that the site was then occupied or visited by a new group of people with new cultural traditions. Evidence for a significant destruction followed by the sharp discontinuity in the material culture could represent a violent termination of the Kura-Araxes occupation at Nadir Tepesi. This possibility provides one hypothesis for the end of the Kura-Araxes culture elsewhere as well in the Mughan Steppe.
It appears that there is no subsequent substantial built settlement until possibly the Late Iron Age in the region. Our intensive and extensive surveys on the Mughan Steppe did not provide evidence for settlements until long after the Kura-Araxes time. For whatever reason, settlements on the Mughan Steppe seem to have reappeared only in the Iron Age and remained sparse until the Sassanian period in late antiquity.45 Although some ceramics with parallels in the Middle and Late Bronze Age and the Iron Age were found at a few sites, they do not seem to represent settlements.
Indeed, except for the sites that may possibly contain burials, we do not know much about the Middle and Late Bronze Ages through the Iron Age in the Mughan Steppe. Similarly, archaeological investigations in the southern Caucasus do not provide information on settlements in the Middle Bronze Age.46 From a broad perspective, the abrupt and possibly violent end to the Kura-Araxes occupation at Nadir Tepesi, together with the sudden disappearance of the Kura-Araxes settlements and the scarcity of post–Kura-Araxes sites in the Mughan Steppe,47 may indicate that these changes were part of a larger phenomenon. This evidence could suggest a major sociocultural and demographic transformation at a regional level, at least in the western Caspian littoral plain, in the middle of the third millennium B.C.E. Other archaeological investigations in the southern Caucasus portray a similar picture, that of newcomers with a significantly different lifestyle and means of subsistence possibly associated with a mobile economy. Except in some elements of the ceramic traditions, evidence of continuity of Kura-Araxes traditions and their coexistence with newcomers is scarce and uncertain.48
On one hand, Puturidze argues that there is no evidence supporting the notion of a migration of people into the southern Caucasus.50 Rather, she associates all the changes in the post–Kura-Araxes period with influences from Near Eastern societies as a result of developing interactions by the end of the third millennium B.C.E. On the other hand, Kohl hypothesizes the possibility of a “push-pull process”51 in which new groups of people with wheeled carts and oxen-pulled wagons gradually moved from the steppes of the north into the southern Caucasus, and the Kura-Araxes communities subsequently moved farther south.52.
Kohl also reminds us of the evidence of increased militarism from the Early to the Late Bronze Age that is reflected in more fortified sites, new weaponry, and an iconography of war as seen on the Karashamb Cup.53 The appearance of defensive mechanisms such as fortification walls, which can be seen at Köhne Shahar, a Kura-Araxes settlement near Chaldran in Iranian Azerbaijan, further emphasizes the increase of intergroup conflicts and militarism during the Early Bronze Age, before the Kura-Araxes culture came to an end.54 Kohl argues that, while the number of Kura-Araxes settlements decreased in the southern Caucasus, archaeological research indicates that the Kura-Araxes culture spread to western Iran in the Zagros region and to the Levant.55 In Kohl’s view, as new groups of people moved in, the Kura-Araxes communities abandoned the southern Caucasus and moved farther south, where some of them already resided. Although some scholars suggest the possible movement of new groups of people from the northern steppes to the southern Caucasus,56 others associate the cultures of the post–Kura-Araxes period, especially the Trialeti.
We believe that the evidence supports a less uniform scenario. The Kura-Araxes culture may have disappeared in various ways; the transition to the post–Kura-Araxes time may not be explained by a single model. Different Kura-Araxes settlements may have ended differently. The evidence from Nadir Tepesi could support a violent end at that site, and it is possible that similar evidence will be found at other sites in the Mughan Steppe. At some sites, such as Köhne Tepesi in the Khoda Afarin Plain,58 the Kura-Araxes occupation also ended abruptly but without any sign of destruction. In other regions, there may be evidence supporting the coexistence of newcomers with Kura-Araxes communities for some period.59 The results from Gegharot60 in Armenia and recent excavations by one of the authors of this report at Köhne Shahar, do not support any of these models. At Köhne Shahar, the Kura-Araxes culture ended around the middle of the third millennium B.C.E.61 In the last phase of Kura-Araxes occupation at the site, six storage jars in one of the workshop units stood intact, five of them still carefully covered by stone slabs. The evidence from Köhne Shahar may point to a nonviolent end or a planned abandonment of the site.62
The picture continues to be somehow blurred for what happened in the Caucasus and North Iran after the Late Indo-European expansions, due to contradictory information.
With the analysis of the dataset from Narasimhan et al. (2018), it seemed that steppe peoples might have migrated into North Iran after the first Khvalynsk/Repin or Early Yamna expansions, because some samples from North Iran were reported to have steppe-related admixture.
NOTE. As I already said, the Hajji Firuz sample of R1b-Z2103 subclade (of uncertain date) clusters closer to the Iron Age sample F38 from Iran (Broushaki et al. 2016), of the same subclade, which is quite likely related to Proto-Armenian speakers, so it is possible that both belong to the same, Late Bronze Age / Iron Age group of migrants.
The other possibility, since it also clusters at a certain distance from the Hajji Firuz I4243 ‘outlier’, dated ca. 2326 BC (from the same archaeological site as other Chalcolithic samples, but being an intrusive Bronze Age burial), is that the Hajji Firuz sample is related to these hypothetical early migrations described here; or, that its date of I4243 is also not reliable…
These initial reports, coupled with archaeological descriptions of potential migrants from the steppe ending the Kura-Araxes culture, may suggest that peoples of steppe origin (or peoples with steppe admixture from the Caucasus) occupied territories further to the south (see here for potential early migration waves).
However, studies of samples from the Caucasus in Wang et al. (2018) have shown that no migrations related to EHG ancestry happened to the south, and that the minimal EHG/WHG contribution in Kura-Araxes individuals is probably part of the Anatolian farmer-related ancestry, and not from the steppe.
In fact, further contribution from Iran Chalcolithic-related ancestry was found intruding to the north during the Early Bronze Age, into Kura-Araxes and Maykop-Novosvobodnaya samples. In the Middle Bronze Age, some peoples from the North Caucasus show steppe ancestry (further to the south than the first steppe ancestry incursions of the North Caucasus piedmont), but most late Caucasus groups studied retain the ‘southern’ Armenian/Iran Chalcolithic profile.
All this casts doubts on the whole idea of intrusive steppe ancestry found in Iran Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age (or, alternatively, on the proper dates of the Hajji Firuz ‘outliers’).
Also, the archaeological discontinuity in the region until the Iron Age, and the close relationship of Armenian to Greek (relative to other Palaeo-Balkan languages, which seem to have expanded to the south-west with Yamna settlers), does not support these hypothetical early steppe migrants as the Proto-Armenian community; earlier migrations of LPIE speakers without known modern descendants are obviously possible, but no clear archaeological or linguistic link has been offered to date to support this.
Until we have more samples with a clear archaeological and chronological context from Anatolia, Iran, and the Armenian Highlands during the Bronze and Iron Ages, and until they show clear steppe ancestry assessed in peer-reviewed papers (or at least thoroughly contrasted with other potential sources of such ancestry, and with solid statistical results), the question of intrusive steppe ancestry, and thus maybe LPIE-speakers (which may or may not be associated with Proto-Armenians) remains open.
NOTE. The Armenian question remains open, not because genetics has precedence over linguistics, but because the linguistic classification and date of separation, in this case, is not clear, and may be quite old. The fact that Palaeo-Balkan and Pre-Indo-Iranian might have separated quite early within the Khvalynsk – Volga-Ural (Early Yamna) community adds to the difficulty in assessing migration routes, although I do believe that the close similarity of Armenian with Greek among Palaeo-Balkan languages do not warrant such an early separation, and the Middle to Late Bronze Age period in the Balkans and Anatolia offers a better route for this expansion.