Palaeolithic Caucasus samples reveal the most important component of West Eurasians


Preprint Paleolithic DNA from the Caucasus reveals core of West Eurasian ancestry, by Lazaridis et al. bioRxiv (2018).

Interesting excerpts:

We analyzed teeth from two individuals 63 recovered from Dzudzuana Cave, Southern Caucasus, from an archaeological layer previously dated to ~27-24kya (…). Both individuals had mitochondrial DNA sequences (U6 and N) that are consistent with deriving from lineages that are rare in the Caucasus or Europe today. The two individuals were genetically similar to each other, consistent with belonging to the same population and we thus analyze them jointly.

(…) our results prove that the European affinity of Neolithic Anatolians does not necessarily reflect any admixture into the Near East from Europe, as an Anatolian Neolithic-like population already existed in parts of the Near East by ~26kya. Furthermore, Dzudzuana shares more alleles with Villabruna-cluster groups than with other ESHG (Extended Data Fig. 5b), suggesting that this European affinity was specifically related to the Villabruna cluster, and indicating that the Villabruna affinity of PGNE populations from Anatolia and the Levant is not the result of a migration into the Near East from Europe. Rather, ancestry deeply related to the Villabruna cluster was present not only in Gravettian and Magdalenian-era Europeans but also in the populations of the Caucasus, by ~26kya. Neolithic Anatolians, while forming a clade with Dzudzuana with respect to ESHG, share more alleles with all other PGNE (Extended Data Fig. 5d), suggesting that PGNE share at least partially common descent to the exclusion of the much older samples from Dzudzuana.

Ancient West Eurasian population structure. PCA of key ancient West Eurasians, including additional populations (shown with grey shells), in the space of outgroup f4-statistics (Methods).

Our co-modeling of Epipaleolithic Natufians and Ibero-Maurusians from Taforalt confirms that the Taforalt population was mixed, but instead of specifying gene flow from the ancestors of Natufians into the ancestors of Taforalt as originally reported, we infer gene flow in the reverse direction (into Natufians). The Neolithic population from Morocco, closely related to Taforalt is also consistent with being descended from the source of this gene flow, and appears to have no admixture from the Levantine Neolithic (Supplementary Information 166 section 3). If our model is correct, Epipaleolithic Natufians trace part of their ancestry to North Africa, consistent with morphological and archaeological studies that indicate a spread of morphological features and artifacts from North Africa into the Near East. Such a scenario would also explain the presence of Y-chromosome haplogroup E in the Natufians and Levantine farmers, a common link between the Levant and Africa.

(…) we cannot reject the hypothesis that Dzudzuana and the much later Neolithic Anatolians form a clade with respect to ESHG (P=0.286), consistent with the latter being a population largely descended from Dzudzuana-like pre-Neolithic populations whose geographical extent spanned both Anatolia and the Caucasus. Dzudzuana itself can be modeled as a 2-way mixture of Villabruna-related ancestry and a Basal Eurasian lineage.

In qpAdm modeling, a deeply divergent hunter-gatherer lineage that contributed in relatively unmixed form to the much later hunter-gatherers of the Villabruna cluster is specified as contributing to earlier hunter-gatherer groups (Gravettian Vestonice16: 35.7±11.3% and Magdalenian ElMiron: 60.6±11.3%) and to populations of the Caucasus (Dzudzuana: 199 72.5±3.7%, virtually identical to that inferred using ADMIXTUREGRAPH). In Europe, descendants of this lineage admixed with pre-existing hunter-gatherers related to Sunghir3 from Russia for the Gravettians and GoyetQ116-1 from Belgium for the Magdalenians, while in the Near East it did so with Basal Eurasians. Later Europeans prior to the arrival of agriculture were the product of re-settlement of this lineage after ~15kya in mainland Europe, while in eastern Europe they admixed with Siberian hunter-gatherers forming the WHG-ANE cline of ancestry [See PCA above]. In the Near East, the Dzudzuana-related population admixed with North African-related ancestry in the Levant and with Siberian hunter-gatherer and eastern non-African-related ancestry in Iran and the Caucasus. Thus, the highly differentiated populations at the dawn of the Neolithic were primarily descended from Villabruna Cluster and Dzudzuana-related ancestors, with varying degrees of additional input related to both North Africa and Ancient North/East Eurasia whose proximate sources may be clarified by future sampling of geographically and temporally intermediate populations.

An admixture graph model of Paleolithic West Eurasians. An automatically generated admixture graph models fits populations (worst Z-score of the difference between estimated and fitted f-statistics is 2.7) or populations (also including South_Africa_HG, worst Z-score is 3.5). This is a simplified model assuming binary admixture events and is not a unique solution (Supplementary Information section 2). Sampled populations are shown with ovals and select labeled internal nodes with rectangles.

Interesting excerpts from the supplementary materials:

From our analysis of Supplementary Information section 3, we showed that these sources are indeed complex, and only one of these (WHG, represented by Villabruna) appears to be a contributor to all the remaining sources. This should not be understood as showing that hunter-gatherers from mainland Europe migrated to the rest of West Eurasia, but rather that the fairly homogeneous post-15kya population of mainland Europe labeled WHG appear to represent a deep strain of ancestry that seems to have contributed to West Eurasians from the Gravettian era down to the Neolithic period.

Villabruna is representative of the WHG group. We also include ElMiron, the best sample from the Magdalenian era as we noticed that within the WHG group there were individuals that could not be modeled as a simple clade with Villabruna but also had some ElMiron-related ancestry. Ddudzuana is representative of the Ice Age Caucasus population, differentiated from Villabruna by Basal Eurasian ancestry. AG3 represents ANE/Upper Paleolithic Siberian ancestry, sampled from the vicinity of Lake Baikal, while Russia_Baikal_EN related to eastern Eurasians and represents a later layer of ancestry from the same region of Siberia as AG3 Finally, Mbuti are a deeply diverged African population that is used here to represent deep strains of ancestry (including Basal Eurasian) prior to the differentiation between West Eurasians and eastern non-Africans that are otherwise not accounted for by the remaining five sources. Collectively, we refer to this as ‘Basal’ or ‘Deep’ ancestry, which should be understood as referring potentially to both Basal Eurasian and African ancestry.

It has been suggested that there is an Anatolia Neolithic-related affinity in hunter-gatherers from the Iron Gates. Our analysis confirms this by showing that this population has Dzudzuana-related ancestry as do many hunter-gatherer populations from southeastern Europe, eastern Europe and Scandinavia. These populations cannot be modeled as a simple mixture of Villabruna and AG3 but require extra Dzudzuana-related ancestry even in the conservative estimates, with a positive admixture proportion inferred for several more in the speculative ones. Thus, the distinction between European hunter-gatherers and Near Eastern populations may have been gradual in pre-Neolithic times; samples from the Aegean (intermediate between those from the Balkans and Anatolia) may reveal how gradual the transition between Dzudzuana-like Neolithic Anatolians and mostly Villabruna-like hunter-gatherers was in southeastern Europe.

Modified image (cut, with important samples marked). Modeling present-day and ancient West-Eurasians. Mixture proportions computed with qpAdm (Supplementary Information section 4). The proportion of ‘Mbuti’ ancestry represents the total of ‘Deep’ ancestry from lineages that split prior to the 365 split of Ust’Ishim, Tianyuan, and West Eurasians and can include both ‘Basal Eurasian’ and other (e.g., Sub-Saharan African) ancestry. (a) ‘Conservative’ estimates. Each population 367 cannot be modeled with fewer admixture events than shown.

Villabruna: This type of ancestry differentiates between present-day Europeans and non-Europeans within West Eurasia, attaining a maximum of ~20% in the Baltic in accordance with previous observations and with the finding of a later persistence of significant hunter-gatherer ancestry in the region. Its proportion drops to ~0% throughout the Near East. Interestingly, a hint of such ancestry is also inferred in all North African populations west of Libya in the speculative proportions, consistent with an archaeogenetic inference of gene flow from Iberia to North Africa during the Late Neolithic.

ElMiron: This type of ancestry is absent in present-day West Eurasians. This may be because most of the Villabruna-related ancestry in Europeans traces to WHG populations that lacked it (since ElMiron-related ancestry is quite variable within European hunter-gatherers). However, ElMiron ancestry makes up only a minority component of all WHG populations sampled to date and WHG-related ancestry is a minority component of present-day Europeans. Thus, our failure to detect it in present day people may be simply be too little of it to detect with our methods.

Dzudzuana: Our analysis identifies Dzudzuana-related ancestry as the most important component of West Eurasians and the one that is found across West Eurasian-North African populations at ~46-88% levels. Thus, Dzudzuana-related ancestry can be viewed as the common core of the ancestry of West Eurasian-North African populations. Its distribution reaches its minima in northern Europe and appears to be complementary to that of Villabruna, being most strongly represented in North Africa, the Near East (including the Caucasus) and Mediterranean Europe. Our results here are expected from those of Supplementary Information section 3 in which we modeled ancient Near Eastern/North African populations (the principal ancestors of present-day people from the same regions) as deriving much of their ancestry from a Dzudzuana-related source. Migrations from the Near East/Caucasus associated with the spread of the Neolithic, but also the formation of steppe population introduced most of the Dzudzuana-related ancestry present in Europe, although (as we have seen above) some such ancestry was already present in some pre-agricultural hunter-gatherers in Europe.

AG3: Ancestry related to the AG3 sample from Siberia has a northern distribution, being strongly represented in both central-northern Europe and the north Caucasus.

Russia_Baikal_EN: Ancestry related to hunter-gatherers from Lake Baikal in Siberia (postdating AG3) appears to have affected primarily northeastern European populations which have been previously identified as having East Eurasian ancestry; some such ancestry is also identified for a Turkish population from Balıkesir, likely reflecting the Central Asian ancestry of Turkic speakers which has been recently confirmed directly in an Ottoman sample from Anatolia.

Some comments

So, to try and sum up:

  • Dzudzuana shares ancestry with ‘Common West Eurasian’ (CWE). the ancestor cluster of Villabruna.
  • Dzudzuana diverges from CWE because of a Basal Eurasian ancestry contribution [which supports that Basal Eurasian ancestry was a deep Middle Eastern lineage].
  • Dzudzuana is closest to Anatolia Neolithic, and close to Gravettian.
Palaeolithic migrations and clusters in Europe. See more maps.


  1. Aurignacian: First West Eurasians arrive ca. 36,000 BP, Goyet cluster expands probably with C1a2 lineages.
  2. After that, the early or ‘unmixed’ Villabruna cluster (‘hidden’ somewhere probably east of Europe, either North Eurasia or South Eurasia), lineages unknown (possibly IJ), contributes to:
    1. Gravettian (ca. 30,000 BP): Věstonice cluster expands, probably with IJ lineages.
    2. A (hidden) ‘Common West Eurasian’ population.
    3. In turn:

      • Dzudzuana ca. 26,000 BP derived from Common West Eurasian (curiously, haplogroup G seems to split in today’s subclades ca. 26,000 BP).
      • During the Gravettian (ca. 26,000 BP), an Anatolian Neolithic-like population exists already in the Near East. Both Věstonice and this Anatolian HG are close to Dzudzuana; in turn, Dzudzuana from CWE.

    4. Magdalenian (ca. 20,000 BP): El Mirón cluster expands, probably with more specific I lineages.
  3. Bølling-Allerød warming period (ca. 14,000 BP): ‘late’ Villabruna cluster or WHG (=CWE with greater affinity to Near Eastern populations) expands, probably spreading with R1b in mainland Europe and to the east (admixing with Siberian HG), creating the WHG — ANE ancestry cline, as reflected in Iron Gates HG, Baltic HG, etc.

[Here we have the possible “bidirectional gene flow between populations ancestral to Southeastern Europeans of the early Holocene and Anatolians of the late glacial or a dispersal of Southeastern Europeans into the Near East” inferred from Anatolian hunter-gatherers]

The Gravettian (30,000 to 20,000 years) is drawn in black and white; the subsequent Magdalenian (17,000 to 10,000 years) and Hamburgian (13,000-11,750 years) are in light blue and red. It is not known whether the spread of the Gravettian was a result of diffusion of people or cultures. This figure illustrates the possible monocentric origins of the Gravettian, in which the Gravettian is hypothesized to have its origin in the Middle Danube Basin, first spreading west (solid lines) and later spreading east and southeast (dashed lines). This scenario is largely based on the chronology of sites. Thus far, genome-wide data has been collected from only three of the ten< Gravettian regions indicated on the map. These regions are northern Austria (1 sample), the Czech Republic (6), southern Italy (3) and Belgium (3), indicating that they all share a genomic ancestry. However, it is unknown whether samples from the remaining regions also share a close genomic ancestry. Some skeletal remains associated with the Gravettian that could be investigated paleogenomically are from Sungir (Russia); Laghar Velho (central Portugal); Cussac Cave; Les Garennes, near Vilhonneur; and Level 2 at Abri Pataud116 (western France). Light blue and light red regions represent the approximate distributions of the Magdalenian Culture and the Hamburgian Culture (13,000-11,750 years). Figure adapted from Kozłowski. Image from Harris (2017)

The paper talks about possibilities for Common West Eurasian:

  1. Migration from mainland Europe to Near East or vice versa (not very likely);
  2. Migration from a geographically intermediate Ice Age refugium in southeast Europe, Anatolia, or the circum-Pontic region that explain post-glacial affinity of post-glacial Levantine and Anatolian populations.

It also re-states what was known:

  • EHG (ca. 8,000 BP) = between WHG — ANE (ca. 24,000 BP).
  • CHG (ca. 10,000 BP) = between EHG — Iran N.

I would say that the distinct CHG vs. Dzudzuana ancestry puts CHG probably to the south, within the Iranian Plateau, during the Gravettian, expanding probably later.

Also important, Ancestral North African probably accompanied by haplogroup E. Early expansion of North Africans into the Near East further confirms the impossibility of Afroasiatic (much younger) to be associated with these expansions, and confirms that the still unclear Green Sahara migrations are the key.


Expansion of haplogroup G2a in Anatolia possibly associated with the Mature Aceramic period


Preprint Late Pleistocene human genome suggests a local origin for the first farmers of central Anatolia, by Feldman et al. bioRxiv (2018).

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

Anatolian hunter-gatherers experienced climatic changes during the last glaciation and inhabited a region that connects Europe to the Near East. However, interactions between Anatolia and Southeastern Europe in the later Upper Palaeolithic/Epipalaeolithic are so far not well documented archaeologically. Interestingly, a previous genomic study showed that present-day Near-Easterners share more alleles with European hunter-gatherers younger than 14,000 BP (‘Later European HG’) than with earlier ones (‘Earlier European HG’). With ancient genomic data available, we could directly compare the Near-Eastern hunter-gatherers (AHG and Natufian) with the European ones. As is the case for present-day Near-Easterners, the Near-Eastern hunter-gatherers share more alleles with the Later European HG than with the Earlier European HG, shown by the significantly positive statistic D(Later European HG, Earlier European HG; AHG/Natufian, Mbuti). Among the Later European HG, recently reported Mesolithic hunter-gatherers from the Balkan peninsula, which geographically connects Anatolia and central Europe (‘Iron Gates HG’), are genetically closer to AHG when compared to all the other European hunter-gatherers, as shown in the significantly positive statistic D(Iron_Gates_HG, European hunter-gatherers; AHG, Mbuti/Altai). Iron Gates HG are followed by Epigravettian and Mesolithic individuals from Italy and France (Villabruna and Ranchot respectively) as the next two European hunter-gatherers genetically closest to AHG. Iron Gates HG have been suggested to be genetically intermediate between WHG and eastern European hunter-gatherers (EHG) with an additional unknown ancestral component.

Ancient genomes (marked with color-filled symbols) projected onto the principal components 5 computed from present-day west Eurasians (grey circles) (fig. S4). The geographic location of each ancient group is marked in (A). Ancient individuals newly reported in this study are additionally marked with a black dot inside the symbol

We find that Iron Gates HG can be modeled as a three-way mixture of Near-Eastern hunter-gatherers (25.8 ± 5.0 % AHG or 11.1 ± 2.2 % Natufian), WHG (62.9 ± 7.4 % or 78.0 ± 4.6 % respectively) and EHG (11.3 ± 3.3 % or 10.9 ± 3 % respectively). The affinity detected by the above D-statistic can be explained by gene flow from Near-Eastern hunter-gatherers into the ancestors of Iron Gates or by a gene flow from a population ancestral to Iron Gates into the Near-Eastern hunter-gatherers as well as by a combination of both. To distinguish the direction of the gene flow, we examined the Basal Eurasian ancestry 5 component (α), which is prevalent in the Near East but undetectable in European hunter-gatherers. Following a published approach, we estimated α to be 24.8 ± 5.5 % in AHG and 38.5 ± 5.0 % in Natufians, consistent with previous estimates for the latter. Under the model of unidirectional gene flow from Anatolia to Europe, 6.4 % is expected for α of Iron Gates by calculating (% AHG in Iron Gates HG) × (α in AHG). However, Iron Gates can be modeled without any Basal Eurasian ancestry or with a non-significant proportion of 1.6 ± 2.8 %, suggesting that unidirectional gene flow from the Near East to Europe alone is insufficient to explain the extra affinity between the Iron Gates HG and the Near-Eastern hunter-gatherers. Thus, it is plausible to assume that prior to 15,000 years ago there was either a bidirectional gene flow between populations ancestral to Southeastern Europeans of the early Holocene and Anatolians of the late glacial or a dispersal of Southeastern Europeans into the Near East. Presumably, this Southeastern European ancestral population later spread into central Europe during the post-last-glacial maximum (LGM) period, resulting in the observed late Pleistocene genetic affinity between the Near East and Europe.

Basal Eurasian ancestry proportions (α) as a marker for Near-Eastern gene flow. Mixture proportions inferred by qpAdm for AHG and the Iron Gates HG are schematically represented. The lower schematic shows the expected α in Iron Gates HG under 10 assumption of unidirectional gene flow, inferred from α in the AHG source population. The observed α for Iron Gates HG is considerably smaller than expected thus, the unidirectional gene flow from the Near East to Europe is not sufficient to explain the above affinity.

While ancestry is not always relevant to distinguish certain population movements (see here), especially – as in this case – when there are few samples (thus neither geographically nor chronologically representative) and no previous model to test, it seems that ancestry and Y-DNA show a great degree of continuity in Anatolia since the Palaeolithic until the Neolithic, at least in the sampled regions. C1a2 appears in Europe since ca. 40,000 years ago (viz. Kostenki, Goyet, Vestonice, etc., and later emerges again in the Balkans after the Anatolian Neolithic expansion, probably a resurge of European groups).

The potential transition of a G2a-dominated agricultural society – that is later prevalent in Anatolian and European farmers – may have therefore happened during the Aceramic III period (ca. 8000 BC), a process of haplogroup expansion probably continuing through the early part of the Pottery Neolithic, as the society based on kinship appeared (Rosenberg and Erim-Özdoğan 2011). There is still much to know about the spread of ceramic technology and southwestern Asia domesticate complex, though.


Without a proper geographical sampling, representative of previous and posterior populations, it is impossible to say. But the expansion of R1b-L754 through Anatolia to form part of the Villabruna cluster (and also the Iron Gates HG) seems perfectly possible with this data, although this paper does not help clarify the when or how. We have seen significant changes in ancestry happen within centuries with expanding populations admixing with locals. Palaeolithic sampling – like this one – shows few individuals scattered geographically over thousands of km and chronologically over thousands of years…


Palaeogenomic and biostatistical analysis of ancient DNA data from Mesolithic and Neolithic skeletal remains


PhD Thesis Palaeogenomic and biostatistical analysis of ancient DNA data from Mesolithic and Neolithic skeletal remains, by Zuzana Hofmanova (2017) at the University of Mainz.

Palaeogenomic data have illuminated several important periods of human past with surprising im- plications for our understanding of human evolution. One of the major changes in human prehistory was Neolithisation, the introduction of the farming lifestyle to human societies. Farming originated in the Fertile Crescent approximately 10,000 years BC and in Europe it was associated with a major population turnover. Ancient DNA from Anatolia, the presumed source area of the demic spread to Europe, and the Balkans, one of the first known contact zones between local hunter-gatherers and incoming farmers, was obtained from roughly contemporaneous human remains dated to ∼6 th millennium BC. This new unprecedented dataset comprised of 86 full mitogenomes, five whole genomes (7.1–3.7x coverage) and 20 high coverage (7.6–93.8x) genomic samples. The Aegean Neolithic pop- ulation, relatively homogeneous on both sides of the Aegean Sea, was positively proven to be a core zone for demic spread of farmers to Europe. The farmers were shown to migrate through the central Balkans and while the local sedentary hunter-gathers of Vlasac in the Danube Gorges seemed to be isolated from the farmers coming from the south, the individuals of the Aegean origin infiltrated the nearby hunter-gatherer community of Lepenski Vir. The intensity of infiltration increased over time and even though there was an impact of the Danubian hunter-gatherers on genetic variation of Neolithic central Europe, the Aegean ancestry dominated during the introduction of farming to the continent.

Taking only admixture analyses using Yamna samples:

This increased genetic affinity of Neolithic farmers to Danubians was observed for Neolithic Hungarians, LBK from central Europe and LBK Stuttgart sample. Some post-Neolithic samples also proved to share more drift with Danubians, again samples from Hungary (Bronze Age and Copper Age samples and also Yamnaya and samples with elevated Yamnaya ancestry (Early Bronze Age samples from Únětice, Bell Beaker samples, Late Neolithic Karlsdorf sample and Corded Ware samples).


The results of our ADMIXTURE analysis for the dataset including also Yamnaya samples are shown in Figure S1c. The cross-validation error was the lowest for K=2. Supervised and unsupervised analyses for K=3 are again highly concordant. Early Neolithic farmers again demonstrate almost no evidence of hunter-gatherer admixture, while it is observable in the Middle Neolithic farmers. However, much of the Late Neolithic hunter-gatherer ancestry from the previous analysis is replaced by Yamnaya ancestry. These results are consistent with the results of Haak et al. who demonstrated a resurgence of hunter-gatherer ancestry followed by the establishment of Eastern hunter-gatherer ancestry.

Again, admixture results show that something in the simplistic Yamna -> Corded Ware model is off. It is still interesting to review admixture results of European Mesolithic and Late Neolithic genomic data in relation to the so-called steppe or yamna ancestry or component (most likely an eastern steppe / forest zone ancestry probably also present in the earlier Corded Ware horizons) and its interpretation…

Image composed by me, from two different images of the PhD Thesis. To the left: Supervised run of ADMIXTURE. The clusters to be supervised were chosen to best fit the presumed ancestral populations (for HG Motala and for farmers Bar8 and Bar31 and for later Eastern migration Yamnaya). To the Right: Unsupervised run of ADMIXTURE for the Anatolian genomic dataset with Yamnaya samples for K=8.

Discovered via Généalogie génétique