European hydrotoponymy (V): Etruscans and Rhaetians after Italic peoples


There is overwhelming evidence that the oldest hydrotoponymic layer in Italy (and especially Etruria) is of Old European nature, which means that non-Indo-European-speaking (or, at least, non-Old-European-speaking) Etruscans came later to the Apennine Peninsula.

Furthermore, there is direct and indirect linguistic, archaeological, and palaeogenomic data supporting that the intrusive Tursānoi came from the Aegean during the Late Bronze Age, possibly through the Adriatic, and that their languages spread to Etruria and probably also to the eastern Alps.

Hydrotoponymic layer

The following are translated excerpts (emphasis mine) from Lenguas, genes y culturas en la Prehistoria de Europa y Asia suroccidental, by Villar et al. Universidad de Salamanca (2007):

Lenguas, genes y culturas en la Prehistoria de Europa y Asia suroccidental (2007). Buy the ebook online (or the printed version, if available).

‘(Indo-)Mediterranean’ substrate?

The name Indo-Mediterranean substrate was spread in Italy by the work of V. Pisani. Other Italian scholars continued this idea, such as W. Belardi, L. Heilmann, D. Silvestri, etc. In their hands, the nuclear area of ​​the Indo-Mediterranean substratum was established as follows: “il mondo culturale indomediterráneo trova i suoi più importanti centri di gravitazione (e, soltanto secondariamente, di espansione) nel Mediterràneo Orientale (Creta, Cipro, Asia Minore), nella ‘regione dei due fiumi’ (area di espansione subarea) e nella valle dell’Indo (civiltà de Harappa e Mohenjo Daro)”. From there they could have spread to other areas, such as the western Mediterranean. Even at one point there was talk of “a Mediterranean oasis in the Baltic”, whose main basis was the existence of numerous lexical elements, real or supposedly pre-Indo-European in the Baltic languages.

One of the paradoxes of the theory of the Mediterranean substrate is that the lexical or toponymic components that are attributed to it can rarely be explained etymologically from the surviving languages ​​of said supposed substrate; sometimes they are not even very compatible with what we know of the non-Indo-European languages ​​of the corresponding area. For example, neither Basque nor Iberian have an ancestral and autochthonous phoneme /p/, while that phoneme is frequent in substrate words (cf. among the few mentioned above *pal- and *lap-). In fact, for these three languages ​​other alternative origins have been imagined, so that they would not be representatives of the local substrate: Basque (North Africa, the Caucasus), Iberian (North Africa), Etruscan (Asia Minor). Thus, under such hypotheses the non-Indo-European languages ​​attested in Italy and the Iberian Peninsula would not be autochthonous, but as immigrant as the Indo-European languages.

Akʷa hydronyms. The majority of old serial elements are found in Italy, with 9, where they don’t appear as second element. Different to the southern areas, they are found in especially frequent compounds in the acha-Namen in Germany, and hyper-represented (as usual) in Lithuania, which shows strictly 8 ancient names.

Italy and Iberia

Let’s review data on Italy:

I. Serial tponyms and hydronyms of Italy:

  1. ub-: Caecubus, Egubium, Litubium, Marrubium, Olobia, Rutuba, Tardoba, Tardubius, Verubius, etc.
  2. uc-: Aluca, Arucia, Arugus, Ausucum, Ausugum, Motuca, Uccia.
  3. ur-: Orinos, Stura, Stura, Astura, Tibur, Caburrum, Calorem.
  4. urc-: Coturga, Orgus, Urcia, Urcinia, Urgo.
  5. bai-: Baebiani.
  6. tuc-: Tucianus (pagus).
  7. murc-: Murcia, Murgantia, Murgantia.
  8. *war: Varduli, Barduli.


II. Non-serial toponyms and hydronyms of Italy: Aesis, Aisis, Ana, Ania, Anios, Arsia, Astura, Ausa, Ausonia, Ausculum, Bardinisca vallis, Barduli, Basentius, Basta, Boron, Cabienses (Cabia), Caburrum, Cales, Cales, Casta Ballenis, Ceresium, Cerili, Corsica, Cortona, Curicum, Ispelum, Ispila, Isporos, Istonium, Istria, lacus, Latis, Latium, Laurentum, Laurentes, Luca, Lucania, Lucera, Maleventum, mare, Marrucini, Minio, Minius, Oscela, Osci, Ossa, Ostia, Paestum, Pisaurum, Pisaurus, Sabini, Sagis, Savo, Sila, Silarus, Silis, Soletum, etc.


Not few of the coincident place names between the southern Iberian and Italic material are rigorous cognates. We understand by such the names that not only coincide in the root or in the serial element, but in the whole root set plus suffixes, or – if it is a compound – in the two sets of roots plus suffixes. In addition to the ones that we are going to present below, there are others that we did not mention because the Iberian correlate was not found within the southern group, but in other geographical areas, as is the case, for example, with the Italian Mantua and the Spanish Mantua (Carpetania).

As can be seen, the parallels between the southern Iberian toponymic area and the Italic one are so wide and strict that the mere calculation of probabilities makes any attempt to attribute them to the mere chance of random homophony irrational. And the improbability of chance increases as coincidences are added in new places in Europe. What will not prevent, for sure, that some would resort to it as an explanation, in particular those who are reluctant to abandon the conception of the prehistory of the European continent that underlies their usual approaches, which suffer an irreparable strike when they are confronted with these data.

The second aspect, the compatibility of this material with Indo-European etymology, offers another significant correlation: the “southern” series that are also found in the Ibero-Pyrenean region and in Italy (and the rest of western Europe) are compatible with Indo-European etymologies; (…)

I will spare the reader of all proposed Indo-European etymologies, most of which are fairly evident. Those interested should buy one of the books, or both.



(…) in the whole of Italy there is a considerable collection of toponyms and hydronyms of “Southern Iberian” type, whose joint inventory we have contributed to above. From them we find in Etruria Ause, Veturris / Bituriza, Castola, Hasta, Cortona, Luca, Minio, Osa / Ossa, Pissai, Pistoria. The Hispanic and Italian correlates of those names are:


However, the inventory of ancient names and hydronyms of Etruria compatible without discussion with well-known Indo-European etymologies is much wider: Albina, Alma, Alsium, Arnine, Arnos, Arnus, Aventia, Marta, Pallia, Umbro, Vetulonium, Volsinii. Furthermore, the majority of Etrurian hydronyms have non-Latin Indo-European etymology: Albina, Alma, Arnine, Arnos, Arnus, Auser, Aventia, Marta, Minio, Osa, Ossa, Pallia, Umbro. And very few of the others (Clusinus, Cremera, Lingeus, Trasumenus, Vesidia) could claim an Etruscan etymology, if only one could do so.

In summary, the territory occupied by Etruscans presents a hydro-toponymic situation very similar to that of the rest of Italy and Western Europe: it exhibits a very deep toponymic stratum of Indo-European character to which most hydronyms attested in antiquity belong. As we know the history of Etruria from the end of the 1st millennium BC, and we know that no other Indo-European peoples mediated between the Etruscans and the Romanization of the territory, we must conclude that this ancient toponymy was there before the Etruscans arrived or emerged in that place. And, when the Etruscans settled there, they did not have the opportunity to put names of their language to the rivers in general, because they had already received them from a previous people and the Etruscans limited themselves to learning them, adapting them to their language, and transmitting them in turn to the Romans. When the latter Romanized Etruria, they limited themselves to incorporating those names and adapting them to Latin.



The ‘foreign’ Tyrsenians

Here is a recapitulation of the main reasons why Etruscans were recently intrusive to Italy, as they appeared in The Origin of the Etruscans, by Beekes (2003):

  1. The tradition as given by Herodotus and Dionysius of Halikarnassos.
  2. The story that the Etruscans were Pelasgians.
  3. The use of the term ‘Tyrsēnoi’ for both Etruscans and a people in north-western Asia Minor. Above we argued that the eastern Tyrsēnoi are the remnant of a population. This means that the Tyrsēnoi/Etruscans came from this area.
  4. The Lemnos inscription.
  5. To the testimony of Lemnos must now be added that Herodotus says that the people of Plakiê and Skylakê spoke the same language as the Etruscans.
  6. etruscan-homeland

  7. The kumdanlı inscription. (…) lake Egridir (of which the old name is unknown, unless it was just Limnai). This is just over the border of classical Lydia. The inscription dates from the second century ad and is given by Ramsay (i883); the same inscription is cited by Sundwall (i9i3, 22i). It mentions three people as Tyrsēnoi(67, 68, i02). Though very late, the inscription is of great interest, as it is the only time that we have inscriptional evidence for Tyrsēnoi in Asia Minor. (And nobody will argue that these were Etruscans from Italy.) (…)
  8. The suffix -ānos. The suffix -ānos in the name Tyrsēnoi (with ē from ā) points to the north-west of Asia Minor. It has long since been recognized that this suffix for ethnic names is at home in north-west Asia Minor; some think that it is of non-Greek origin; cf. Αβυδηνός , Ολυμπιηνός, Περγαμηνός, Σαρδηνός; (see Chantraine i933, 206; Schwyzer 490 (6); De Simone i993, 88ff.). This proves that the name Tyrsēnoi originated in the north-west of Asia Minor. (…)
  9. Loanwords. As to the language, Steinbauer (i999, 367) observes that Etruscan shows most connections (loanwords) with Lydian (…)
  10. Tarchon. The definite proof of the oriental origin of the Etruscans is that a ‘hero’ of great significance is Tarchon (Briquel i99i). He is clearly the Stormgod Tarhun(t)-, the highest god of the Luwians and Hittites.
  11. Nanas. This identification is strongly confirmed by the story that the Etruscans were Pelasgians who came from Greece under Nanas (Nanos), mentioned by Hellanikos. This name was long ago recognized as an Anatolian ‘Lallname’.
  12. The triumphus complex. In his study of the Roman triumphus Versnel has shown that (i970, 293): ‘the Etruscans brought the New Year festival with them from Asia Minor, together with the god who formed the centre of it, a god whom the Greeks called Dionysos, the Etruscans Tinia (or by an Italic name Voltumna), a figure of the ‘dying and rising’ type, who was invoked by the cry *thriambe and who on New Year’s Day was represented by the king.’ And on p. 300: ‘The Etruscans brought the New Year festival with them from Asia Minor and gave Rome two ceremonies: the ludi Romani as the festival of the New Year, the triumph as the festival of the victory. … Only along this way is it possible to explain the data: i. the Dionysiac call to epiphany triumpe, introduced via Etruria; 2. the identification of the Roman victorious general and of the magistrate leading the games with the god Iuppiter; 3. the typological and historic relation between the ludi Romani and the triumph.’
  13. The double axe. On a smaller issue Versnel concludes (p. 299): ‘When this bipennis [‘double axe’], property of ‘Zeus Bakchos’, carried as symbol of sacred power by Lydian kings, is encountered again as the symbol of the royal authority of the Etruscan kings, particularly of the supreme king of the federation of cities, this may be considered an important indication of the Asia Minor origin of the entire underlying ideology, and of the ceremony of investiture in which the bipennis played a part.’ These conclusions are of primary importance, as they concern a deeprooted complex of religious views that cannot have been taken over from elsewhere.
  14. The Kabeiroi. One might also recall the Latin word camillus, which means a young boy of noble birth who assists with ritual actions. (…) Probably more evidence can be found in the field of religion, such as the much discussed hepatoscopy. It seems quite probable to me that the lituus, the crosier used by the Roman priests, is Anatolian (see e.g. Wainwright i959, 2i0; cf. Haas i99i, Abb. 75, the Stormgod standing on an animal with his lituus over his shoulder).
  15. The Etruscan way of life. There was in antiquity much criticism on Etruscan customs, concerning cruelty, sexual behaviour, and the behaviour of women. (…) Dionysius concluded from the fact that they were so strange that they had always lived in Italy, whereas it is of course much more natural to explain it by assuming that they were strangers.
  16. No withdrawal area. We have seen above that Tuscany is not a ‘withdrawal area’, where an ancient people may hold out when the country is invaded. On the contrary, it is a desirable area which the Indo-European peoples, had they come later, would certainly have occupied. (But it went the other way: the Etruscans came long after the Indo-Europeans and settled there/conquered the country.)
  17. sea-peoples-expansion-tyrsenians
    The Sea Peoples in the Eastern Mediterranean c. 1200 BC. Map by Ian Mladjov.
  18. Archaeology. Many scholars would like to see archaeological evidence, but I think that it is quite possible that we shall never find any.
  19. The 1200 crisis. In 1200 the whole Mediterranean was in commotion; the Mycenaean and Hittite worlds, between which the TyrseOEnoi lived, disappeared. So the movement of the Etruscans fits very well in the general picture. That this was the setting of the migration of the Etruscans has been assumed by many earlier scholars.
  20. The ten saecula. As to the time, it has been argued that the Etruscans thought that their world would last ten saecula (Briquel i999, 58; Pfiffig i975, i59ff.). The way of counting provides several problems, however (…) If we accept it, we arrive at 968 bc. Now we do not know from when one started counting. This might have been a decisive victory over the Umbrians, or a kind of unification of the Etruscans, or the founding of an important city. It could well be that this was some 200 years after the arrival of the Etruscans, which would take us to 1168 bc. (…)
  21. The famine. Herodotus states that the reason for the departure of the Tyrsēnoi was a long famine. This has been identified as the famine about i200. (…)
  22. The sea-peoples. (…) The phenomenon as a whole stands, it seems; the problem is the details: which peoples took part in which movements? In our case, as the Lukka are mentioned (which were very probably the Lycians), the Tyrsēnoi may have been involved as well. So the question is whether the T(w)r(w)š, mentioned by Merneptah, were the Tyrsēnoi. We have no confirmation, but it seems quite possible.
  23. The journey. We know from the abundant finds of ceramics in the i3th century that the Mycenaeans knew the sea-route to Italy. (…)
  24. The Umbrians. Pliny (3, ii2) states that the Etruscans conquered 300 cities from the Umbrians (Trecenta eorum oppida Tusci debellasse reperiuntur.). This clearly refers to the ‘Landnahme’. This statement is confirmed by the river Umbro (mod. Ombrone), which flows in its full length in Etruscan territory. The river will have given its name to the people, or vice versa. Anyhow, the river will have flowed in Umbrian territory; so the Etruscans must have pushed the Umbrians out.
  25. The name Sergestus, of a prominent friend of Aeneas, seems identical with Lydian Srkastu- and Phrygian Surkastos (…) it is excluded that (Virgil) got it from Lydia or Phrygia, or Asa Minor in general. So he must have got it at home, from a source that was acqainted with Etruscan traditions. This means that the name was known to the Etruscans (or those who studied their traditions). Above I proposed that it lives on in Etr. Sekst-alu-.

You can read the full text (and its appendices) for further evidences adduced by Beekes, who considers the matter mostly settled.

Local Italic peoples

Another main reason for the intrusion of Tyrsenians among local groups is the ancient connection between Italic languages, which most likely formed an ancient Apennine dialect continuum:

  • the core Italic group with Latino-Faliscan and Palaeo-Sabellic – probably also including an Ausonian-Siculian branch – separated ca. 1500-1000 BC;
  • NOTE. Sicel is believed to have arrived in Sicily with Ausonian-Siculian speakers either around the 13th c. or in the middle of the 11th c. BC (or in both waves), from their ancient settlements in the mainland, driving prior inhabitants (Elymians) to the east of the island, which sets another clear terminus ante quem for the expansion of Italic languages in southern Italy.

  • and the possibly more distantly related North Picene and Venetic, connecting all roughly to an early to mid-2nd millennium BC language.

This continuum was probably broken (with language replacement and displacement events) with the 12th c. BC turmoil and the emergence of new social hierarchies. The adoption of older place and river names, as well as the lack of long-lasting influence on neighbouring languages, suggests that the predominance of the Etruscan language in its proto-historic territory was probably gradual and quite recent.

NOTE. For more on guesstimates, relative chronological expansions and potential archaeological identifications, see e.g. “Ausgliederung und Aufgliederung der italischen Sprachen”, by Helmut Rix In: Languages in Prehistoric Europe (2003). Or, basically, any recent (linguistic) text on the distribution and attribution of ancient Apennine languages to the Ital(o-Venet)ic group.

Languages of pre-Roman Italy and nearby islands. Italo-Venetic languages surrounded with shadowed red border. I1, South Picene; I2, Umbrian; I3, Sabine; I4, Faliscan; I5, Latin; I6, Volscian and Hernican; I7, Central Italic (Marsian, Aequian, Paeligni, Marrucinian, Vestinian); I8, Oscan, Sidicini, Pre-Samnite; I9, Sicel; IE1, Venetic; IE2, North Picene; IE3, Ligurian; IE4, Elymian; IE5, Messapian; C1, Lepontic; C2, Gaulish; G1-G2-G3, Greek dialects (G1: Ionic, G2: Aeolic, G3: Doric); P1, Punic; N1, Rhaetian; N2, Etruscan; N3, Nuragic. Image modified from Davius Sanctex.


The main criticism against this ethnolinguistic model of foreign Tyrsenians comes, surprisingly, from the lack of archaeological data to support this arrival. Or, rather, fitting anthropological interpretations of a culture of Asia Minor with similar hierarchical societies (?). From Review of R. S. P. Beekes, The Origin of the Etruscans, by Mahoney, Etruscan Studies (2008):

A crucial part of Beekes’ argument, however, is that there is a significant cultural break in Etruria around 1200, at the beginning of the Early Bronze Age or Proto-Villanovan period (p. 34, citing Briquel and Torelli). The introduction of cremation can be dated to around this period, and there is also evidence for a new hierarchical social organization (convenient summary in Barker and Rasmussen, p. 53-60). Beekes simply says that there is a change, and changes of this sort can come about when new people move in to an existing society, so therefore this change is consistent with his theory. That is correct as far as it goes, but what is missing is any consideration of how and why people coming in from Asia Minor would cause the particular changes that take place in Etruria. Can we argue that the society of the pre-migration Tyrsenians was hierarchical in the same way as those of the various Indo-European-speaking peoples in the region? Beekes simply says “what we still would like to have is material objects, or art traditions etc., from Etruria agreeing with their homeland” (p. 34). What we would really like to have is evidence for the organization of society in this alleged homeland.

Weird as this criticism is, here it is yet another example of the social change brought about under Eastern Mediterranean influences during the Final Bronze Age, from a recent paper (behind paywall) Mobile elites at Frattesina: flows of people in a Late Bronze Age ‘port of trade’ in northern Italy, by Cavazzuti et al. Antiquity (2019):


The collapse of the Terramare system c. 1150 BC was followed by a sudden and substantial depopulation of the central part of the Po Plain (Cardarelli 2009). At the beginning of the Final Bronze Age, the southern part of the Po Valley was almost abandoned. In contrast, in the northern part of the Po Valley, some villages survived (…) Concurrently, a new territorial system arose, pivoting around the socio-economic pole of Frattesina (Calzavara Capuis et al. 1984; Bietti Sestieri et al. 2015; Cupitò et al. 2015). Therefore, within the area of the wider Terramare ‘culture’, local responses to the crisis led to different outcomes, some of which were relatively successful and others catastrophic. Economic factors—both in terms of internal carrying capacity and degree of openness to external relations—probably played a key role in determining different responses to the tensions.

The communities of the Terramare, especially in the southern area, were probably not flexible enough to adapt their political structure and modes of production to the needs of a rapidly changing world. Moreover, the domino effect from the overall geo-political instability of the twelfth century BC, in a highly interconnected system such as the Mediterranean, was undoubtedly another factor (Cardarelli 2009). The lack of evidence in the southern Terramare area for connections with the Aegean and the Levant suggests a more ‘closed’ system located on the edge of the ‘globalised’ world of the Late Bronze Age. In contrast, there is well-documented evidence from the largest terramare on the northern side of the Po River for possible incipient institutionalised, well-connected elites—particularly at Fondo Paviani, which has yielded locally produced pottery in Levantine and Late Helladic IIIC Aegean-Mycenaean styles (Bettelli et al. 2015).

The display of austere equality that dominated the Middle and Late Bronze Age ‘urnfields’ (Salzani 2005; Cardarelli 2014) strongly limited funerary expressions of social differentiation. Internal inequalities nonetheless existed between different co-resident extended families and lineages comprising tens of individuals at most (e.g. at Casinalbo; Cardarelli et al. 2014: 722–28), and, above all, between large centres, such as the terramara at Fondo Paviani and dependent satellite settlements (Balista et al. 2005; Cupitò et al. 2015). It seems reasonable therefore to hypothesise that groups based at nodal sites in the system attracted more prestige goods from exotic places, along with individuals from distant areas, while small villages attracted people mainly from within a local radius (Cavazzuti et al. 2019a). Within this dynamic cultural context, the Final Bronze Age funerary evidence from Frattesina documents a more elaborate display of power and wealth concentrated in the hands of elites. At Le Narde (Frattesina’s cemetery), this privileged segment of society, probably with its own entourage, is clearly represented by a small number of burials with several indicators of prestige.

Distribution of the violin-bow fibulae with two temple knots in the different source categories. Map by Sabine Pabst (2018).


(…) the individual in burial Narde1-168 may have achieved the status of a ‘warrior-chief’, as symbolised by the presence of an Allerona-type sword (Bianco Peroni 1970). This was ritually broken and deposited in pieces inside the grave, along with a bronze pin, a pair of tweezers and other ornaments (Figure 8). (…) yielded a strontium isotope ratio (0.70983) that is incompatible with the local 0–20km baseline (Table 3), but fits within the 20–50km range. By contrast, the value obtained from the femoral cortical bone (0.70924) is consistent with the local range of Frattesina. This means that this individual moved to the site after early childhood—possibly during youth or early adulthood—and he probably spent the last years of his life there, at the apex of the community.

Marshall Sahlins (1981), in his famous article ‘The stranger-king: or Dumézil among the Fijians’, compares the dynamics of power in the Fiji Islands to the Indo-European tradition, arguing that human societies tend to locate power as originating from the outside (Sahlins 1981, 2008; see also Ling & Rowlands 2015). Sahlins focuses on origin myths across ancient polities in the Indo-European language area, which systematically feature a dichotomy between what the Romans called gravitas and celeritas. The former refers to the conservative, peaceful and productive character of an established native community, while celeritas represents the disruptive, transformative violence personified in the stranger king, who “erupts upon a pastoral scene of peaceful husbandry and political equality (or at least limited authority)” (Sahlins 1981: 112).

The grave goods and cremated bones of burial Narde1-168 (after Salzani 1989). Urn height is 0.26m, sword length is 0.46m.

The individual buried in grave Narde1-168 at Frattesina was probably neither a true ‘king’, nor a true ‘stranger’. Despite its uniqueness, his grave resembles those of the rest of the community and is included within a large collective—or at least not evidently exclusive—burial mound. ‘Warrior-chief’ perhaps would be a more appropriate definition for this individual. Moreover, his place of origin was not so distant as to define him as a ‘stranger’. Nonetheless, Sahlins’s archetype of the ‘stranger-king’ evokes the power of alterity; burial Narde1-168 perfectly embodies celeritas, which breaks with the gravitas of the former Terramare tradition and guided whatever survived the collapse towards a new social model. Since the discovery of Frattesina and its cemeteries, Italian scholars have debated the mechanisms underlying the origin and economic success of the settlement, and the degree of foreign (i.e. Cypriot and Levantine) involvement in this process as suggested by archaeological finds (Cupitò et al. 2015). The new isotopic data presented here demonstrate that even though some individuals may have come from the Levant—where the available 87Sr/86Sr baseline ranges from 0.7079–0.7086 (Sheridan & Gregoricka 2015; Gregoricka & Guise Sheridan 2016)—or were from other exotic places, they nonetheless represent a minority of the population and, in any case, not the upper elite. The latter appear quite mobile, although probably from within the broader hinterland radius.

Adriatic or western route?

One of the interesting questions, and probably non-trivial for the correct interpretation of ancestry in future ancient DNA samples, is from where exactly did Tyrsenians come from, and more importantly where exactly did the arrive, and when. I have the impression that a Tyrrhenian Sea route is more commonly depicted (as in my maps) due to the historical predominance of Etruscans in the west, but that archaeologists usually consider the Adriatic – and thus a spread from the Po River Valley and/or Pannonia – a more likely route for Tyrsenian speakers, and probably rightly so.

NOTE. The tentative (and highly speculative) classification of fragmentary Rhaetian as more archaic than Etruscan relative to Lemnian may give further support to this route.

Failing a precise time transect from a population geographically close to the origin of their expansion in central or northern Italy, we are bound to see the same misinterpretations of the data we have seen in the case of Sea Peoples of hg. R1b behind Philistines. Nevertheless, here are some interesting predictions of population movements by Pabst (2013) based particularly on the Stätzling-/Allerona-sword from Narde in Veneto, which have been confirmed for the moment with isotope analyses, showing that some peoples of Frattesina had previously lived in the eastern Mediterranean, and that local elites had a much closer origin:

Distribution of the various blade profiles of the Stätzling (l) and Casale (H) type of leaf blade sword: 1 White symbols: blade with rapier-like ribs. – 2 black symbols: flat rhombic blade profile.- 3 Large gray symbols: a blade with a narrow midrib and longitudinal grooves.- Small gray symbols: lenticular or indefinite blade profile. (Map S. Pabst).

An Ingot fragment from the hoard of Hočko Pohorje in Styria, Slovenia indicates that possibly also Pannonia was involved in the 12th century BC (or during stage Ha A1) in the East and Central Mediterranean copper trade. According to the chemical composition or the high iron content, it is particularly close to individual finds from Sardinia, Italy and Anatolia.

The people behind the Stätzling swords could have been the potentates of this supraregional trade in the Adriatic and Ionian seas. This is also to be expected from the presence of late Mycenaean populations on the upper Adriatic. This is indicated – in addition to individual Mycenaean ceramics imports – especially in the Aegean Stätzling sword from the fly cave of Škocjan in the hinterland of Trieste, in this exchange network of the 12th century BC. However, not only people from the late Mycenaean cultural area were involved in the process. For native elites are suspected behind the mostly locally manufactured Stätzling swords in Pannonia and Italy, according to the analysis of the grave find 227 of Narde; perhaps local organizers of the trade, as allies of the Mycenaean chiefs.


Palaeogenomics might help shed light upon the complex matter of the Tyrsenian emergence in Europe. Even though Rhaetian is a fragmentary language, it seems that it is related to Etruscan, and neither are remnant languages from the Bronze Age, but rather intrusive languages to Italy and Central Europe.

It is more than likely, then, that ancient DNA will show an increase in Aegean ancestry during the Late/Final Bronze Age in central and/or northern Italy, even if this change is found rapidly diluted within generations, as happened with the Aegean ancestry among Philistines, who – in spite of this dilution – also left their prolonged linguistic mark in the Levant.

This is the summary I made of an online report from oral communication A 12,000-year Genetic History of Rome and the Italian Peninsula, by Hannah Moots, the 6th February 2019, with 134 samples from Lazio and surrounding areas:

Bronze Age – Iron Age evolution of Italy Top Left: Early Bronze Age cultures. Bottom left: PCA of groups from the Bronze Age; marked in red are previous Italy Bell Beakers. Top Right: Early Iron Age cultures. Bottom right: PCA of groups from the Iron Age – Middle Ages; marked in red are the approximate location of described ancient Italian clusters, one including Etruscans, Osco-Umbrians, Picentes, etc., and the wider cluster of Romans (dates unknown). See full maps and PCAs.

While Bronze Age samples of west-central Italy show a clear homogenisation of the genetic pool, with a shift in the PCA towards central Europe (away from the previous CHG/Iran Neolithic influence), and thus close to the modern Sardinian cluster, the few investigated Iron Age samples from the Republican period (ca. 700–20 BC) show a widespread genetic cluster encompassing the modern Italian ones, overlapping North Italian (ca. 60%) or South Italian/Sicilian (ca. 40%) clusters. The arrival or increase of EHG-, Levant Neolithic-, or CHG/IN-related ancestry in samples from this period suggest influence from previous population movements during the LBA from the north or through the Mediterranean, respectively. The Imperial Period shows influence from CHG/IN-related ancestry, but only sporadically Levant Neolithic.

NOTE. For more on the referred northern and southern Italian clusters, see Population structure of modern-day Italians reveals patterns of ancient and archaic ancestries in Southern Europe, by Raveane et al. bioRxiv (2018).

Principal component analysis projecting 63 ancient individuals onto the components inferred from modern individuals. A) Principal component analysis projecting 63 ancient individuals onto the components inferred from 3,282 modern individuals assigned, through a CP/fS analysis, to European West Asian and Caucasian clusters.

The alternative view

Kristiansen is among those who offer an alternative view in the archaeological question, supporting the opposite direction of population movements: of Terramare migrants in Greece, a theory which is not to be lightly dismissed, in the complex setting of population movements across the Mediterranean during the Final Bronze Age.

As a weak linguistic support for such a movement, one can find the hypothesis of Eteo-Cretans as Osco-Umbrian speakers, based on de Ligt’s speculative interpretation of the Praisos inscription (Talanta 2008-2009).

It seems that, even if these views are also correct, the overwhelming evidence is for a foreign origin of Tyrsenians:

Villabruna cluster in Late Epigravettian Sicily supports South Italian corridor for R1b-V88


New preprint Late Upper Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers in the Central Mediterranean: new archaeological and genetic data from the Late Epigravettian burial Oriente C (Favignana, Sicily), by Catalano et al. bioRxiv (2019).

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

Grotta d’Oriente is a small coastal cave located on the island of Favignana, the largest (~20 km2) of a group of small islands forming the Egadi Archipelago, ~5 km from the NW coast of Sicily.

The Oriente C funeral pit opens in the lower portion of layer 7, specifically sublayer 7D. Two radiocarbon dates on charcoal from the sublayers 7D (12149±65 uncal. BP) and 7E, 12132±80 uncal. BP are consistent with the associated Late Epigravettian lithic assemblages (Lo Vetro and Martini, 2012; Martini et al., 2012b) and refer the burial to a period between about 14200-13800 cal. BP, when Favignana was connected to the main island (Agnesi et al., 1993; Antonioli et al., 2002; Mannino et al. 2014).

A-B) Geographic location of Grotta d’Oriente.

The anatomical features of Oriente C are close to those of Late Upper Palaeolithic populations of the Mediterranean and show strong affinity with other Palaeolithic individuals of Sicily. As suggested by Henke (1989) and Fabbri (1995) the hunter-gatherer populations were morphologically rather uniform.

Genetic analysis

We confirmed the originally reported mitochondrial haplogroup assignment of U2’3’4’7’8’9. This haplogroup is present in both pre- and post-LGM populations, but is rare by the Mesolithic, when U5 dominates (Posth et al.2016).

Lipson et al. (2018) (their supplementary Figure S5.1) and Villalba-Mouco et al. (2019) (their Figure 2A) showed that European Late Palaeolithic and Mesolithic hunter-gatherers fall along two main axes of genetic variation. Multidimensional scaling (MDS) of f3-statistics shows that these axes form a “V” shape (Fig. 3). (…)

Focusing further on Oriente C, we find that it shares most drift with individuals from Northern Italy, Switzerland and Luxembourg, and less with individuals from Iberia, Scandinavia, and East and Southeast Europe (Fig. 4A-B). Shared drift decreases significantly with distance (Fig. 4C) and with time (Fig. 4D) although in a linear model of drift with distance and time as a covariate, only distance (p=1.3×10-6) and not time (p=0.11) is significant. Consistent with the overall E-W cline in hunter-gatherer ancestry, genetic distance to Oriente C increases more rapidly with longitude than latitude, although this may also be affected by geographic features. For example, Oriente C shares significantly more drift with the 8,000 year-old 1,400 km distant individual from Loschbour in Luxembourg (Lazaridis et al.,2014), than with the 9,000 year old individual from Vela Spila in Croatia (Mathieson et al.,2018) only 700 km away as shown by the D-statistic (Patterson et al.,2012) D (Mbuti, Oriente C, Vela Spila, Villabruna); Z=3.42. Oriente C’s heterozygosity was slightly lower than Villabruna (14% lower at 1240k transversion sites), but this difference is not significant (bootstrap P=0.12).

Multidimensional scaling of outgroup f3-statistics for Late 531 Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic hunter-gatherers.

Discussion and Conclusion

The robust record of radiocarbon dates proves that they reached Sicily not before 15-14 ka cal. BP, several millennia after the LGM peak. In our opinion, in fact, the hypothesis about an early colonization of Sicily by Aurignacians (Laplace, 1964; Chilardi et al., 1996) must be rejected, on the basis of a recent reinterpretation of the techno-typological features of the lithic industries from Riparo di Fontana Nuova (Martini et al., 2007; Lo Vetro and Martini, 2012; on this topic see also Di Maida et al., 2019).

These analyses have implications for understanding the origin and diffusion of the hunter-gatherers that inhabited Europe during the Late Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic. Our findings indicate that Oriente C shows a strong genetic relationship with Western European Late Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, suggesting that the “Western hunter-gatherers” was a homogeneous population widely distributed in the Central Mediterranean, presumably as a consequence of continuous gene flow among different groups, or a range expansion following the LGM.

The same statistic as in A plotted with geographic position

The South Italian corridor

Once again, a hypothesis based on phylogeography – apart from scarce archaeological and palaeolinguistic data (“Semitic”-like topo-hydronymy and substrates in Europe) – seems to be confirmed step by step. Since the finding of the Villabruna individual of hg. R1b-L754 (likely R1b-V88, like south-eastern European lineages expanded with WHG ancestry), it was quite likely to find out that southern Europe was the origin of the expansion of R1b-V88 into Africa.

The most likely explanation for the presence of “archaic” R1b-V88 subclades among modern Sardinians was, therefore, that they represented a remnant from a Late Upper Palaeolithic/Early Mesolithic population that had not been replaced in subsequent migrations, and thus that the migration of these lineages into Northern Africa and the Green Sahara happened during a period when Italy was connected by a shallower Mediterranean (and more land connections) to Northern Africa.

Likely Late Epigravettian/Mesolithic expansion of R1b-V88 into Northern Africa. See full map.

Nevertheless, the arguments for a quite recent expansion of R1b-V88 through the Mediterranean and into Africa keep being repeated, probably based on ancestry from the few ancient (and many modern) populations that have been investigated to date, a simplistic approach prone to important errors that overarch whole migration models.

For example, in the recent paper by Marcus et al. (2019) the presence of these lineages among ancient Sardinians (from the late 4th millennium BC on) is interpreted as an expansion of R1b-V88 with the Cardial Neolithic based on their ancestry, disregarding the millennia-long gap between these samples and the presence of this haplogroup in Palaeolithic/Mesolithic Northern Iberia and Northern Italy, and the comparatively much earlier splits in the phylogenetic tree and dispersal among African populations.

Afroasiatic and Nostratic

I was asked recently if I really believed that we could reconstruct Proto-Nostratic and connect it with any ancestral population. My answer is simple: until the Chalcolithic – when the whole picture of Indo-Europeans, Uralians, Egyptians or Semites becomes quite clear – we have just very few (linguistic, archaeological, genetic) dots which we would like to connect, and we do so the best we can. The earlier the population and proto-language, the more difficult this task becomes.

NOTE. 1) I tentatively connected hg. R with Nostratic in a previous text – when it appeared that R1a expanded from around Lake Baikal, hence Eurasiatic; R1b from the south with AME-WHG ancestry, hence Afroasiatic; and R2 with Dravidian.

2) After that, I though it was more likely to be connected to AME ancestry and the Middle East, because of the apparent expansion of WHG from south-eastern Europe, and the potential association of Afroasiatic and (Elamo-?)Dravidian to Middle Eastern populations.

3) However, after finding more and more R1b samples expanding through northern Eurasia, spreading through the (then wider) steppe regions; and R1a essentially surviving among other groups in eastern Europe for thousands of years without being associated to significant migrations (like, say, hg. C after the Palaeolithic), it didn’t seem like this division was accurate, hence my most recent version.

But, in essence, it’s all about connecting the dots, and we have very few of them…

Phylogenetic tree from Pagel et al. (2013), partially in agreement with Kortlandt’s view on Eurasiatic. “Consensus phylogenetic tree of Eurasiatic superfamily (A) superimposed on Eurasia and (B) rooted tree with estimated dates of origin of families and of superfamily. (A) Unrooted consensus tree with branch lengths (solid lines) shown to scale and illustrating the correspondence between the tree and the contemporary north-south and east-west geographical positions of these language families. Abbreviations: P (proto) followed by initials of language family: PD, proto-Dravidian; PK, proto-Kartvelian; PU, proto-Uralic; PIE, proto–Indo-European; PA, proto-Altaic; PCK, proto–Chukchi-Kamchatkan; PIY, proto–Inuit-Yupik. The dotted line to PIY extends the inferred branch length into the area in which Inuit-Yupik languages are currently spoken: it is not a measure of divergence. The cross-hatched line to PK indicates that branch has been shortened (compare with B). The branch to proto-Dravidian ends in an area that Dravidian populations are thought to have occupied before the arrival of Indo-Europeans (see main text). (B) Consensus tree rooted using proto-Dravidian as the outgroup. The age at the root is 14.45 ± 1.75 kya (95% CI = 11.72–18.38 kya) or a slightly older 15.61 ± 2.29 kya (95% CI = 11.72–20.40 kya) if the tree is rooted with proto-Kartvelian. The age assumes midpoint rooting along the branch leading to proto-Dravidian (rooting closer to PD would produce an older root, and vice versa), and takes into account uncertainty around proto–Indo-European date of 8,700 ± 544 (SD) y following ref. 35 and the PCK date of 692 ± 67 (SD) y ago.”

In linguistics, I trust traditional linguists who tend to trust other more experimental linguists (like Hyllested or Kortlandt) who consider that – in their experience – an Indo-Uralic and a Eurasiatic phylum can be reconstructed. Similarly, linguists like Kortlandt are apparently (partially) supportive of attempts like that of Allan Bomhard with Nostratic – although almost everyone is critic of the Muscovite school‘s attachment to the Brugmannian reconstruction, stuck in pre-laryngeal Proto-Indo-Anatolian and similar archaisms.

I mostly use Nostratic as a way to give a simplistic ethnolinguistic label to the genetically related prehistoric peoples whose languages we will probably never know. I think it’s becoming clear that the strongest connection right now with the expansion of potential Eurasiatic dialects is offered by ANE-related populations (hence Y-chromosome bottlenecks under hg. R, Q, probably also N), however complicated the reconstruction of that hypothetic community (and its dialectalization) may be.

Therefore, the multiple expansions of lineages more or less closely associated to ANE-related peoples – like R1b-V88 in the case of Afrasian, or R2 in the case of Dravidians – are the easiest to link to the traditionally described Nostratic dialects and their highly hypothetic relationship.

Reconstruction of North African vegetation during past green Sahara periods. Estimated and reconstructed MAP for the Holocene GSP (6–10 kyr BP) projected onto a cross-section along the eastern Sahara (left panel) and map view of reconstructed MAP, vegetation and physiographic elements [7,8,11,45] (right panel). Image from Larrasoaña et al. (2013).

What should be clear to anyone is that the attempt of many modern Afroasiatic speakers to connect their language to their own (or their own community’s main) haplogroups, frequently E and/or J, is flawed for many reasons; it was simplistic in the 2000s, but it is absurd after the advent of ancient DNA investigation and more recent investigation on SNP mutation rates. R1b-V88 should have been on the table of discussions about the expansion of Afroasiatic communities through the Green Sahara long ago, whether one supports a Nostratic phylum or not.

The fact that the role of R1b bottlenecks and expansions in the spread of Afroasiatic is usually not even discussed despite their likely connection with the most recent population expansions through the Green Sahara fitting a reasonable time frame for Proto-Afroasiatic reconstruction, a reasonable geographical homeland, and a compatible dialectal division – unlike many other proposed (E or J) subclades – reveals (once again) a lot about the reasons behind amateur interest in genetics.

Just like seeing the fixation in (and immobility of) recent writings about the role of I1, I2, or (more recently) R1a in the Proto-Indo-European expansion, R1b with Vasconic, or N1c with Proto-Uralic.

NOTE. That evident interest notwithstanding, it is undeniable that we have a much better understanding of the expansions of R1b subclades than other haplogroups, probably due in great part to the easier recovery of ancient DNA from Eurasia (and Europe in particular), for many different – sociopolitical, geographical, technological – reasons. It is quite possible that a more thorough temporal transect of ancient DNA from the Middle East and Africa might radically change our understanding of population movements, especially those related to the Afroasiatic expansion. I am referring in this post to interpretations based on the data we currently have, despite that potential R1b-based bias.


Ancient Sardinia hints at Mesolithic spread of R1b-V88, and Western EEF-related expansion of Vasconic


New preprint Population history from the Neolithic to present on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia: An ancient DNA perspective, by Marcus et al. bioRxiv (2019)

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine, edited for clarity):

On the high frequency of R1b-V88

Our genome-wide data allowed us to assign Y haplogroups for 25 ancient Sardinian individuals. More than half of them consist of R1b-V88 (n=10) or I2-M223 (n=7).

Francalacci et al. (2013) identi fied three major Sardinia-specifi c founder clades based on present-day variation within the haplogroups I2-M26, G2-L91 and R1b-V88, and here we found each of those broader haplogroups in at least one ancient Sardinian individual. Two major present-day Sardinian haplogroups, R1b-M269 and E-M215, are absent.

Compared to other Neolithic and present-day European populations, the number of identi fied R1b-V88 carriers is relatively high.

(…)ancient Sardinian mtDNA haplotypes belong almost exclusively to macro-haplogroups HV (n = 16), JT (n = 17) and U (n = 9), a composition broadly similar to other European Neolithic populations.

Geographic and temporal distribution of R1b-V88 Y-haplotypes in ancient European samples. We plot the geographic position of all ancient samples inferred to carry R1b-V88 equivalent markers. Dates are given as years BCE (means of calibrated 2s radio-carbon dates). Multiple V88 individuals with similar geographic positions are vertically stacked. We additionally color-code the status of the R1b-V88 subclade R1b-V2197, which is found in most present-day African R1b-V88 carriers.

On the origin of a Vasconic-like Paleosardo with the Western EEF

(…) the Neolithic (and also later) ancient Sardinian individuals sit between early Neolithic Iberian and later Copper Age Iberian populations, roughly on an axis that differentiates WHG and EEF populations and embedded in a cluster that additionally includes Neolithic British individuals. This result is also evident in terms of absolute genetic differentiation, with low pairwise FST ~ 0.005 +- 0.002 between Neolithic Sardinian individuals and Neolithic western mainland European populations. Pairwise outgroup-f3 analysis shows a very similar pattern, with the highest values of f3 (i.e. most shared drift) being with Neolithic and Copper Age Iberia, gradually dropping off for temporally and geographically distant populations.

In explicit admixture models (using qpAdm, see Methods) the southern French Neolithic individuals (France-N) are the most consistent with being a single source for Neolithic Sardinia (p ~ 0:074 to reject the model of one population being the direct source of the other); followed by other populations associated with the western Mediterranean Neolithic Cardial Ware expansion.

Principal Components Analysis based on the Human Origins dataset. A: Projection of ancient individuals’ genotypes onto principal component axes de fined by modern Western Eurasians (gray labels).

Pervasive Western Hunter-Gatherer ancestry in Iberian/French/Sardinian population

Similar to western European Neolithic and central European Late Neolithic populations, ancient Sardinian individuals are shifted towards WHG individuals in the top two PCs relative to early Neolithic Anatolians Admixture analysis using qpAdm infers that ancient Sardinian individuals harbour HG ancestry (~ 17%) that is higher than early Neolithic mainland populations (including Iberia, ~ 8%), but lower than Copper Age Iberians (~ 25%) and about the same as Southern French Middle-Neolithic individuals (~ 21%).

Principal Components Analysis based on the Human Origins dataset. B: Zoom into the region most relevant for Sardinian individuals.

Continuity from Sardinia Neolithic through the Nuragic

We found several lines of evidence supporting genetic continuity from the Sardinian Neolithic into the Bronze Age and Nuragic times. Importantly, we observed low genetic differentiation between ancient Sardinian individuals from various time periods.

A qpAdm analysis, which is based on simultaneously testing f-statistics with a number of outgroups and adjusts for correlations, cannot reject a model of Neolithic Sardinian individuals being a direct predecessor of Nuragic Sardinian individuals (…) Our qpAdm analysis further shows that the WHG ancestry proportion, in a model of admixture with Neolithic Anatolia, remains stable at ~17% throughout three ancient time-periods.

Present-day genetic structure in Sardinia reanalyzed with aDNA. A: Scatter plot of the rst two principal components trained on 1577 present-day individuals with grand-parental ancestry from Sardinia. Each individual is labeled with a location if at least 3 of the 4 grandparents were born in the same geographical location (\small” three letter abbreviations); otherwise with \x” or if grand-parental ancestry is missing with \?”. We calculated median PC values for each Sardinian province (large abbreviations). We also projected each ancient Sardinian individual on to the top two PCs (gray points). B/C: We plot f-statistics that test for admixture of modern Sardinian individuals (grouped into provinces) when using Nuragic Sardinian individuals as one source population. Uncertainty ranges depict one standard error (calculated from block bootstrap). Karitiana are used in the f-statistic calculation as a proxy for ANE/Steppe ancestry (Patterson et al., 2012).

Steppe influx in Modern Sardinians

While contemporary Sardinian individuals show the highest affinity towards EEF-associated populations among all of the modern populations, they also display membership with other clusters (Fig. 5). In contrast to ancient Sardinian individuals, present-day Sardinian individuals carry a modest “Steppe-like” ancestry component (but generally less than continental present-day European populations), and an appreciable broadly “eastern Mediterranean” ancestry component (also inferred at a high fraction in other present-day Mediterranean populations, such as Sicily and Greece).


Global demographic history inferred from mitogenomes

Open access Global demographic history of human populations inferred from whole mitochondrial genomes, by Miller, Manica, and Amos, Royal Society Open Science (2018).

Relevant excerpts (emphasis mine):


The Phase 3 sequence data from 20 populations, comprising five populations for each of the four main geographical regions of Europe, East Asia, South Asia and Africa, were downloaded from the 1000 Genomes Project website (, [8]), including whole mitochondrial genome data for 1999 individuals. We decided not to analyse populations from the Americas due to the region’s complex history of admixture [13,14].

The European populations were as follows: Finnish sampled in Finland (FIN); European Caucasians resident in Utah, USA (CEU); British in England and Scotland (GBR); an Iberian population from Spain (IBS) and Toscani from Italy (TSI). Representing East Asia were the Han Chinese in Beijing (CHB); Southern Han Chinese (CHS); Dai Chinese from Xishuangbanna, China (CDX); Kinh population from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (KHV) and Japanese from Tokyo (JPT). The South Asian populations were Punjabi Indians from Lahore, Pakistan (PJL); Gujarati Indians in Houston, USA (GIH) as well as Indian Telugu sampled in the UK (ITU); Bengali from Bangladesh (BEB) and Sri Lankan Tamil from the UK (STU). (…)


We analysed our mtDNA data with the extended Bayesian skyline plot (EBSP) method, a Bayesian, non-parametric technique for inferring past population size fluctuations from genetic data. Building on the previous Bayesian skyline plot (BSP) approach, EBSP uses a piecewise-linear model and Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) methods to reconstruct a populations’ demographic history [17] and is implemented in the software package BEAST v. 2.3.2 [11]. Alignments for each of the 20 populations were loaded separately into the Bayesian Evolutionary Analysis Utility tool (BEAUti v. 2.3.2) in NEXUS format.

Relationship between profile similarity and genetic distance, measured as Fst. Comparisons between regions, circles, are colour-coded: black ¼ AFR-EA; yellow ¼ AFR-EUR; blue ¼ AFR-SA; orange ¼ EUR-EA; green ¼ EA-SA; red ¼ EUR-SA. Comparisons within regions, squares, are coded: peach ¼ EUR; pink ¼ EA; dark blue ¼ EA; light blue ¼ AFR. Profile similarity is calculated as inferred size difference summed over 20 evenly spaced intervals (see Material and methods).

Regional demographic histories


The five European profiles are presented in figure 2. The four southerly populations all show profiles with a stable size up to approximately 14 ka followed by a sudden, rapid increase that becomes progressively less steep towards the present. There is also a north-south trend, with confidence intervals becoming broader towards the north, particularly for the oldest time-points. The Finnish population profile appears rather different, but this is to be expected both because it is so far north and because previous studies have identified Finns as a strong genetic outlier in Europe [19–22].

Inferred demographic histories of five European populations. Dotted line is the median estimate of Ne and the thin grey lines show the boundary of the 95% CPD interval. The x-axis represents time from the present in years and all plots are on the same scale. Map shows origins of sampled populations.

South Asia:

The five profiles for South Asia are shown in figure 3. All populations reveal a period of rapid growth approximately 45–40 ka which then slows. Near the present the two southerly populations, GIH and STU both show evidence of a decline. However, this may be due to these samples being drawn from populations no longer living on the subcontinent, with the downward trend capturing a bottleneck associated with moving to Europe/America, perhaps accentuated by the tendency for immigrant populations to group by region, religion and race [23].

Inferred South Asian population demographic histories. Dotted line is the median Ne estimate and the thin grey lines show the boundary of the 95% CPD intervals. The x-axis represents time from the present in thousands of years and all plots are on the same scale. The map shows location of sampled populations.


Long-term matrilineal continuity in a nonisolated region of Tuscany


New paper (behind paywall) The female ancestor’s tale: Long‐term matrilineal continuity in a nonisolated region of Tuscany, by Leonardi et al. Am J Phys Anthr (2018).

EDIT (10 SEP 2018): The main author has shared an open access link to read the PDF.

Interesting excerpts:

Here we analyze North-western Tuscany, a region that was a corridor of exchanges between Central Italy and the Western Mediterranean coast.

We newly obtained mitochondrial HVRI sequences from 28 individuals, and after gathering published data, we collected genetic information for 119 individuals from the region. Those span five periods during the last 5,000 years: Prehistory, Etruscan age, Roman age, Renaissance, and Present-day. We used serial coalescent simulations in an approximate Bayesian computation framework to test for continuity between the mentioned groups.

In all cases, a simple model of a long-term genealogical continuity proved to fit the data better, and sometimes much better, than the alternative hypothesis of discontinuity.

The low number of samples analyzed requires some caution in the interpretation. Because we did not test for gene flow, it is at this stage impossible to reject it, but our results suggest at least significant levels of genealogical continuity. Moreover, as it has not been possible to obtain more precise information on the age of the Eneolithic samples, they were grouped together considering the average archaeological period of interest, which may cause a bias in the analyses. (…)

Geographic location of the samples considered in this work

(…) clearly, our samples show high levels of continuity when considering the whole Tuscan region as a genetic reservoir during the Iron Age.

The posterior distributions of the parameters confirm a high degree of genetic isolation in the sampled population, with very small values for the female effective population sizes across time. Such values, in particular the Neolithic ones, are in accord with the estimates obtained in similar studies, both in Tuscany (Ghirotto et al., 2013) and in France (Rivollat et al., 2017).


Taken at their face value, our results do not show any major shift in the composition of the maternal ancestry of the population, across 50 centuries. This does not mean that no demographic process of relevance has affected the population, and indeed the higher diversity accumulating in time is the likely consequence of immigrating people, enriching the mitochondrial gene pool.

(…) the population of the current Lucca province appears to have retained very ancient mitochondrial features, despite occupying a geographical corridor between the Ligurian and the Tyrrhenian coast, and despite not showing the persistence of unique cultural traits through the centuries.


Another possibility is that that the different populations passing through the area (Etruscans, Romans, and Lombards) had a consistent social and/or sex bias. An example of similar patterns has been observed several times. Between the Late Neolithic and the Early Bronze Age, female exogamy in patrilocal society has been observed in Southern Germany (Knipper et al., 2017); during the Bronze Age the migrations toward Europe from the steppes appears to have consisted prevalently of males (Goldberg, Günther, Rosenberg, & Jakobsson, 2017); and in more recent periods in the Canary Islands, the female ancestry maintains a significant amount of autochthonous lineages, while the male ancestry was strongly influenced by the European colonization (Fregel et al., 2009, b).

It is well known that military invasions may not have a significant genetic impact upon the invaded population (Schiffels et al., 2016; Sokal, Oden, Walker, Di Giovanni, & Thomson, 1996;Weale,Weiss, Jager, Bradman, & Thomas, 2002), especially at the mitochondrial level, because of the limited size of a sustainable army, and of the fact that armies are generally composed mostly or only of males. Even if a substantial share of invaders decided to remain and settle the region, this form of gene flow would affect mostly or only the paternal lineages, rather than the maternal ones. We can also hypothesize the immigration of a number of people (e.g., Romans, Lombards) that may have acted as ruler of the region, remaining socially (and so genetically) separated by the local population, and leaving few (if any) traces in the gene pools of the local population.

Supporting Information, Table S1 New ancient samples genotyped

We expect to see that certain migrations since the Iron Age – like the Celtic and Roman ones – were somehow different from previous ones, where, at least since the Neolithic, male-dominated expansions were the rule.

If, however, male-biased expansions are also seen during the Iron Age – probably driven by particular subclades then – , this would certainly justify the continuity of admixture in certain regions in spite of these population expansions, and thus the importance of Y-DNA to track more recent language changes.

One of the most interesting details of the upcoming paper of Italic peoples will be the Y-DNA (and admixture) of Etruscans compared to other neighbouring peoples, given the known conflicting theories regarding their recent vs. older origin in the East before the historical record.


Y-chromosome mixture in the modern Corsican population shows different migration layers


Open access Prehistoric migrations through the Mediterranean basin shaped Corsican Y-chromosome diversity, by Di Cristofaro et al. PLOS One (2018).

Interesting excerpts:

This study included 321 samples from men throughout Corsica; samples from Provence and Tuscany were added to the cohort. All samples were typed for 92 Y-SNPs, and Y-STRs were also analyzed.

Haplogroup R represented approximately half of the lineages in both Corsican and Tuscan samples (respectively 51.8% and 45.3%) whereas it reached 90% in Provence. Sub-clade R1b1a1a2a1a2b-U152 predominated in North Corsica whereas R1b1a1a2a1a1-U106 was present in South Corsica. Both SNPs display clinal distributions of frequency variation in Europe, the U152 branch being most frequent in Switzerland, Italy, France and Western Poland. Calibrated branch lengths from whole Y chromosome sequencing [44,45] and ancient DNA studies [46] both indicated that R1a and R1b diversification began relatively recently, about 5 Kya, consistent with Bronze Age and Copper Age demographic expansion. TMRCA estimations are concordant with such expansion in Corsica.

Spatial frequency maps for haplogroups with frequencies above 3%, their Y-STR based phylogenetic networks in Corsican populations (Blue: North, Green: West, Orange: South, Black: Center and Purple: East) and their TMRCA (in years, +/- SE).

Haplogroup G reached 21.7% in Corsica and 13.3% in Tuscany. Sub-clade G2a2a1a2-L91 accounted for 11.3% of all haplogroups in Corsica yet was not present in Provence or in Tuscany. Thirty-four out of the 37 G2a2a1a2-L91 displayed a unique Y-STR profile, illustrated by the star-like profile of STR networks (Fig 1). G2a2a1a2-L91 and G2a2a-PF3147(xL91xM286) show their highest frequency in present day Sardinia and southern Corsica compared to low levels from Caucasus to Southern Europe, encompassing the Near and Middle East [21,47–50]. Ancient DNA results from Early and Middle Neolithic samples reported the presence of haplogroup G2a-P15 [51–53], consistent with gene flow from the Mediterranean region during the Neolithic transition. Td expansion time estimated by STR for P15-affiliated chromosomes was estimated to be 15,082+/-2217 years ago [49]. Ötzi, the 5,300-year-old Alpine mummy, was derived for the L91 SNP [21]. A genetic relationship between G haplogroups from Corsica and Sardinia is further supported by DYS19 duplication, reported in North Sardinia [14], and observed in the southern part of the Corsica in 9 out of 37 G2a2a1a2-L91 chromosomes and in 4 out of 5 G2a2a-PF3147(xL91xM286) chromosomes, 3 of which displayed an identical STR profile (S4 Table).

This lineage has a reported coalescent age estimated by whole sequencing in Sardinian samples of about 9,000 years ago. This could reflect common ancestors coming from the Caucasus and moving westward during the Neolithic period [48], whereas their continental counterparts would have been replaced by rapidly expanding populations associated with the Bronze Age [46,54,55]. Estimated TMRCA for L91 lineage in Corsica is 4529 +/- 853 years. G-L497 showed high frequencies in Corsica compared to Provence and Tuscany, and this haplogroup was common in Europe, but rare in Greece, Anatolia and the Middle East. Fifteen out of the 17 Corsican G2a2b2a1a1b-L497 displayed a unique Y-STR profile (S4 Table) with an estimated TMRCA of 6867 +/- 1294 years. Haplogroup G2a2b1-M406, associated with Impressed Ware Neolithic markers, along with J2a1-DYS445 = 6 and J2a1b1-M92 [22,49], had very low levels in Corsica. Conversely, G2a2b2a-P303was highly represented and seemed to be independent of the G2a2b1-M406 marker. The 7 G2a2b2a-P303(xL497xM527) Corsican chromosomes displayed a unique Y-STR profile (S4 Table).

First and second axes of the PCA based on 12 Y-chromosome haplogroup frequencies in 83 west Mediterranean populations.

Haplogroup J, mainly represented by J2a1b-M67(xM92), displayed intermediate frequencies in Corsica compared to Tuscany and Provence. J2a1b-M67(xM92) derived STR network analysis displayed a quite homogeneous profile across the island with an estimated TMRCA of 2381 +/- 449 years (Fig 1) and individuals displaying M67 were peripheral compared to Northwestern Italians (S2 Fig). The haplogroup J2a1-Page55(xM67xM530), characteristic of non-Greek Anatolia [22], was found in the north-west of Corsica. Haplogroup J2a1-DYS445 = 6 was found in the north-west with DYS391 = 10 repeats, and in the far south with DYS391 = 9 repeats, the former was associated with Anatolian Greek samples, whereas the second was found in central Anatolia [22]. The 7 J2b2a-M241 displayed a unique Y-STR profile (S4 Table), they were only detected in the Cap Corse region, this sub-haplogroup shows frequency peaks in both the southern Balkans and northern-central Italy [56] and is associated with expansion from the Near East to the Balkans during Neolithic period [57].

Haplogroup E, mainly represented by E1b1b1a1b1a-V13, displayed intermediate frequencies in Corsica compared to Tuscany and Provence. E1b1b1a1b1a-V13 was thought to have initiated a pan-Mediterranean expansion 7,000 years ago starting from the Balkans [52] and its dispersal to the northern shore of the Mediterranean basin is consistent with the Greek Anatolian expansion to the western Mediterranean [22], characteristic of the region surrounding Alaria, and consistent with the TMRCA estimated in Corsica for this haplogroup. A few E1b1a-V38 chromosomes are also observed in the same regions as V13.


Mitogenomes show Longobard migration was socially stratified and included females


New bioRxiv preprint A genetic perspective on Longobard-Era migrations, by Vai et al. (2018).

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

In this study we sequenced complete mitochondrial genomes from nine early-medieval cemeteries located in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Italy, for a total of 87 individuals. In some of these cemeteries, a portion of the individuals are buried with cultural markers in these areas traditionally associated with the Longobard culture (hereby we refer to these cemeteries as LC), as opposed to burial communities in which no artifacts or rituals associated by archaeologists to Longobard culture have been found in any graves. These necropolises, hereby referred as NLC, may represent local communities or other Barbaric groups previously migrated to this region. This extended sampling strategy provides an excellent condition to investigate the degree of genetic affinity between coeval LC and NLC burials, and to shed light on early-medieval dynamics in Europe.

Geographical and genetic relationship between the newly sequenced individuals. (A) Location of the sampled necropolises. Here and through the other figures LC cemeteries are represented by a circle while NLC ones are indicated by a square. C) DAPC Scatterplot of the most supported K (7) highlighted by the kmeans analysis

Social rank

There is also no clear geographical structure between samples in our dataset, with individuals from Italy, Hungary and Czech Republic clustering together. However, the first PC clearly separates a group of 12 LC individuals found at Szólád, Collegno and Mušov from a group composed by both LC and NLC individuals. The same pattern is also found when pairwise differences among individuals are plotted by multidimensional scaling (…)

The presence in this group of LC sequences belonging to macrohaplogroups I and W, commonly found at high frequencies in northern Europe (e.g. Finland 32), suggests (although certainly does not prove) the existence of a possible link between these 12 LC individuals and northern Europe. The peculiarity of this group is strengthened by archaeological information from the Szólád cemetery, where 8 of the 12 individuals in this group originated, indicating that all these samples were found buried with typical Longobard artifacts and grave assemblages. We do not find the same tight association for the 3 samples from Collegno, where the 3 graves are indeed devoid of evident Germanic cultural markers; however they are not placed in a separate and marginal location—as for the tombs without grave goods found in Szólád —but among graves with wooden chambers and weapons. It is worth noting that weapon burials were quite scarce in 5th century Pannonia and 6th century Italy (e.g. Goths never buried weapons), and an increase in weapon burials started in Italy only after the Longobard migration. In this light, the individuals buried in this manner may have been members of the same community as well, but belonging to the lowest social level. This social condition could explain the absence of artifacts and could be related to mixed marriages, whose offspring had an inferior social rank. Finally, this group also includes an individual from the Musov graveyard. This finding is particularly interesting in light of the fact that the Musov necropolis has been only tentatively associated with Longobard occupation (see Supplementary Text for details), based on the presence of but a few archaeological markers.

Female migration

We hence estimated that about 70% of the lineages found in Collegno actually derived from the Hungarian LC groups, in agreement with previous archaeological and historical hypotheses. This supports the idea that the spread of Longobards into Italy actually involved movements of fairly large numbers of people, who gave a substantial contribution to the gene pool of the resulting populations. This is even more remarkable thinking that, in many studied cases, military invasions are movements of males, and hence do not have consequences at the mtDNA level. Here, instead, we have evidence of changes in the composition of the mtDNA pool of an Italian population, supporting the view that immigration from Central Europe involved females as well as males.


Population structure in Argentina shows most European sources of South European origin


Open access Population structure in Argentina, by Muzzio et al., PLOS One (2018).

Abstract (emphasis mine):

We analyzed 391 samples from 12 Argentinian populations from the Center-West, East and North-West regions with the Illumina Human Exome Beadchip v1.0 (HumanExome-12v1-A). We did Principal Components analysis to infer patterns of populational divergence and migrations. We identified proportions and patterns of European, African and Native American ancestry and found a correlation between distance to Buenos Aires and proportion of Native American ancestry, where the highest proportion corresponds to the Northernmost populations, which is also the furthest from the Argentinian capital. Most of the European sources are from a South European origin, matching historical records, and we see two different Native American components, one that spreads all over Argentina and another specifically Andean. The highest percentages of African ancestry were in the Center West of Argentina, where the old trade routes took the slaves from Buenos Aires to Chile and Peru. Subcontinentaly, sources of this African component are represented by both West Africa and groups influenced by the Bantu expansion, the second slightly higher than the first, unlike North America and the Caribbean, where the main source is West Africa. This is reasonable, considering that a large proportion of the ships arriving at the Southern Hemisphere came from Mozambique, Loango and Angola.

Principal component analysis.
On the x axis is PC 1 while PC2 is the y axis. Plus symbols represent Argentinian samples and circles are for reference panels. Fig 2a (left) Argentinians with YRI and LWK for African references (“African”), IBS and TSI for European references (“European”) and the PEL, MXL, PUR and CLM as a Latin American references. Fig 2b (right) samples from Argentina with IBS, MXL, CLM and PEL.