How the genocidal Yamnaya men loved to switch cultures


After some really interesting fantasy full of arrows, it seems Kristiansen & friends are coming back to their most original idea from 2015, now in New Scientist’s recent clickbait Story of most murderous people of all time revealed in ancient DNA (2019):

Teams led by David Reich at Harvard Medical School and Eske Willerslev at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark announced, independently, that occupants of Corded Ware graves in Germany could trace about three-quarters of their genetic ancestry to the Yamnaya. It seemed that Corded Ware people weren’t simply copying the Yamnaya; to a large degree they actually were Yamnayan in origin.

If you think you have seen that movie, it’s because you have. They are at it again, Corded Ware from Yamna, and more “steppe ancestry” = “more Indo-European. It seems we haven’t learnt anything about “Steppe ancestry” since 2015. But there’s more:

Genocidal peoples who “switch cultures”

Burial practices shifted dramatically, a warrior class appeared, and there seems to have been a sharp upsurge in lethal violence. “I’ve become increasingly convinced there must have been a kind of genocide,” says Kristian Kristiansen at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

The collaboration revealed that the origin and initial spread of Bell Beaker culture had little to do – at least genetically – with the expansion of the Yamnaya or Corded Ware people into central Europe. “It started in It is in that region that the earliest Bell Beaker objects – including arrowheads, copper daggers and distinctive Bell-shaped pots – have been found, in archaeological sites carbon-dated to 4700 years ago. Then, Bell Beaker culture began to spread east, although the people more or less stayed put. By about 4600 years ago, it reached the most westerly Corded Ware people around where the Netherlands now lies. For reasons still unclear, the Corded Ware people fully embraced it. “They simply take on part of the Bell Beaker package and become Beaker people,” says Kristiansen.

The fact that the genetic analysis showed the Britons then all-but disappeared within a couple of generations might be significant. It suggests the capacity for violence that emerged when the Yamnaya lived on the Eurasia steppe remained even as these people moved into Europe, switched identity from Yamnaya to Corded Ware, and then switched again from Corded Ware to Bell Beaker.

Notice what Kristiansen did there? Yamnaya men “switched identities” into Corded Ware, then “switched identities” into Bell Beakers…So, the most aggresive peoples who have ever existed, exterminating all other Europeans, were actually not so violent when embracing wholly different cultures whose main connection is that they built kurgans (yes, Gimbutas lives on).

NOTE. By the way, just so we are clear, only Indo-Europeans are “genocidal”. Not like Neolithic farmers, or Palaeolithic or Mesolithic populations, or more recent Bronze Age or Iron Age peoples, who also replaced Y-DNA from many regions…


In fact, there is much stronger evidence that these Yamnaya Beakers were ruthless. By about 4500 years ago, they had pushed westwards into the Iberian Peninsula, where the Bell Beaker culture originated a few centuries earlier. Within a few generations, about 40 per cent of the DNA of people in the region could be traced back to the incoming Yamnaya Beakers, according to research by a large team including Reich that was published this month. More strikingly, the ancient DNA analysis reveals that essentially all the men have Y chromosomes characteristic of the Yamnaya, suggesting only Yamnaya men had children.

“The collision of these two populations was not a friendly one, not an equal one, but one where the males from outside were displacing local males and did so almost completely,” Reich told New Scientist Live in September. This supports Kristiansen’s view of the Yamnaya and their descendants as an almost unimaginably violent people. Indeed, he is about to publish a paper in which he argues that they were responsible for the genocide of Neolithic Europe’s men. “It’s the only way to explain that no male Neolithic lines survived,” he says.

So these unimaginably violent Yamnaya men had children exclusively with their Y chromosomes…but not Dutch Single Grave peoples. These great great steppe-like northerners switched culture, cephalic index…and Y-chromosome from R1a (and others) to R1b-L151 to expand Italo-Celtic From The West™.

It’s hilarious how (exactly like their latest funny episode of PIE from south of the Caucasus) this new visionary idea copied by Copenhagen from amateur friends (or was it the other way around?) had been already rejected before this article came out, in Olalde et al. (2019), and that “Corded Ware=Indo-European” fans have become a parody of themselves.

What’s not to love about 2019 with all this back-and-forth hopping between old and new pet theories?

NOTE. I would complain (again) that the obsessive idea of the Danes is that Denmark CWC is (surprise!) the Pre-Germanic community, so it has nothing to do with “steppe ancestry = Indo-European” (or even with “Corded Ware = Indo-European”, for that matter), but then again you have Koch still arguing for Celtic from the West, Kortlandt still arguing for Balto-Slavic from the east, and – no doubt worst of all – “R1a=IE / R1b=Vasconic / N1c=Uralic” ethnonationalists arguing for whatever is necessary right now, in spite of genetic research.

So prepare for the next episode in the nativist and haplogroup fetishist comedy, now with western and eastern Europeans hand in hand: Samara -> Khvalynsk -> Yamnaya -> Bell Beaker spoke Vasconic-Tyrsenian, because R1b. Wait for it…

Vanguard Yamnaya groups

On a serious note, interesting comment by Heyd in the article:

A striking example of this distinction is a discovery made near the town of Valencina de la Concepción in southern Spain. Archaeologists working there found a Yamnaya-like kurgan, below which was the body of a man buried with a dagger and Yamnaya-like sandals, and decorated with red pigment just as Yamnaya dead were. But the burial is 4875 years old and genetic information suggests Yamnaya-related people didn’t reach that far west until perhaps 4500 years ago. “Genetically, I’m pretty sure this burial has nothing to do with the Yamnaya or the Corded Ware,” says Heyd. “But culturally – identity-wise – there is an aspect that can be clearly linked with them.” It would appear that the ideology, lifestyle and death rituals of the Yamnaya could sometimes run far ahead of the migrants.

NOTE. I have been trying to find which kurgan is this, reviewing this text on the archaeological site, but didn’t find anything beyond occasional ochre and votive sandals, which are usual. Does some reader know which one is it?

Yamna expansion and succeeding East Bell Beaker expansion, without color on Bell Beaker territories. Notice vanguard Yamna groups in blue where East Bell Beakers later emerge. See original image with Bell Beaker territories.

Notice how, if you add all those vanguard Yamna findings of Central and Western Europe, including this one from southern Spain, you begin to get a good idea of the territories occupied by East Bell Beakers expanding later. More or less like vanguard Abashevo and Sintashta finds in the Zeravshan valley heralded the steppe-related Srubna-Andronovo expansions in Turan…

It doesn’t seem like Proto-Beaker and Yamna just “crossed paths” at some precise time around the Lower Danube, and Yamna men “switched cultures”. It seems that many Yamna vanguard groups, probably still in long-distance contact with Yamna settlers from the Carpathian Basin, were already settled in different European regions in the first half of the 3rd millennium BC, before the explosive expansion of East Bell Beakers ca. 2500 BC. As Heyd says, there are potentially many Yamna settlements along the Middle and Lower Danube and tributaries not yet found, connecting the Carpathian Basin to Western and Northern Europe.

These vanguard groups would have more easily transformed their weakened eastern Yamna connections with the fashionable Proto-Beaker package expanding from the west (and surrounding all of these loosely connected settlements), just like the Yamna materials from Seville probably represent a close cultural contact of Chalcolithic Iberia with a Yamna settlement (the closest known site with Yamna traits is near Alsace, where high Yamna ancestry is probably going to be found in a Bell Beaker R1b-L151 individual).

This does not mean that there wasn’t a secondary full-scale migration from the Carpathian Basin and nearby settlements, just like Corded Ware shows a secondary (A-horizon?) migration to the east with R1a-Z645. It just means that there was a complex picture of contacts between Yamna and European Chalcolithic groups before the expansion of Bell Beakers. Doesn’t seem genocidal enough for a popular movie, tho.


Corded Ware—Uralic (I): Differences and similarities with Yamna


This is the first of four posts on the Corded Ware—Uralic identification:

I was reading The Bronze Age Landscape in the Russian Steppes: The Samara Valley Project (2016), and I was really surprised to find the following excerpt by David W. Anthony:

The Samara Valley links the central steppes with the western steppes and is a north-south ecotone between the pastoral steppes to the south and the forest-steppe zone to the north [see figure below]. The economic contrast between pastoral steppe subsistence, with its associated social organizations, and forest-zone hunting and fishing economies probably explains the shifting but persistent linguistic border between forest-zone Uralic languages to the north (today largely displaced by Russian) and a sequence of steppe languages to the south, recently Turkic, before that Iranian, and before that probably an eastern dialect of Proto-Indo-European (Anthony 2007). The Samara Valley represents several kinds of borders, linguistic, cultural, and ecological, and it is centrally located in the Eurasian steppes, making it a critical place to examine the development of Eurasian steppe pastoralism.

Language map of the middle Volga-Ural region. After “Geographical Distribution of the Uralic Languages” by Finno-Ugrian Society, Helsinki, 1993.

Khokhlov (translated by Anthony) further insists on the racial and ethnic divide between both populations, Abashevo to the north, and Poltavka to the south, during the formation of the Abashevo – Sintashta-Potapovka community that gave rise to Proto-Indo-Iranians:

Among all cranial series in the Volga-Ural region, the Potapovka population represents the clearest example of race mixing and probably ethnic mixing as well. The cultural advancements seen in this period might perhaps have been the result of the mixing of heterogeneous groups. Such a craniometric observation is to some extent consistent with the view of some archaeologists that the Sintashta monuments represent a combination of various cultures (principally Abashevo and Poltavka, but with other influences) and therefore do not correspond to the basic concept of an archaeological culture (Kuzmina 2003:76). Under this option, the Potapovka-Sintashta burial rite may be considered, first, a combination of traits to guarantee the afterlife of a selected part of a heterogeneous population. Second, it reflected a kind of social “caste” rather than a single population. In our view, the decisive element in shaping the ethnic structure of the Potapovka-Sintashta monuments was their extensive mobility over a fairly large geographic area. They obtained knowledge of various cultures from the populations with whom they interacted.

Late Middle Bronze Age cultures with the Proto-Indo-Iranian Sintashta-Potapovka-Filatovka group (shaded). After Anthony (2007 Figure 15.5), from Anthony (2016).

Interesting is also this excerpt about the predominant population in the Abashevo – Sintashta-Potapovka admixture (which supports what Chetan said recently, although this does not seemed backed by Y-DNA haplogroups found in the richest burials), coupled with the sign of incoming “Uraloid” peoples from the east, found in both Sintashta and eastern Abashevo:

The socially dominant anthropological component was Europeoid, possibly the descendants of Yamnaya. The association of craniofacial types with archaeological cultures in this period is difficult, primarily because of the small amount of published anthropological material of the cultures of steppe and forest belt (Balanbash, Vol’sko-Lbishche) and the eastern and southern steppes (Botai-Tersek). The crania associated with late MBA western Abashevo groups in the Don-Volga forest zone were different from eastern Abashevo in the Urals, where the expression of the Old Uraloid craniological complex was increased. Old Uraloid is found also on a single skull of Vol’sko-Lbishche culture (Tamar Utkul VII, Kurgan 4). Potentially related variants, including Mongoloid features, could be found among the Seima-Turbino tribes of the forest-steppe zone, who mixed with Sintashta and Abashevo. In the Sintashta Bulanova cemetery from the western Urals, some individuals were buried with implements of Seima-Turbino type (Khalyapin 2001; Khokhlov 2009; Khokhlov and Kitov 2009). Previously, similarities were noted between some individual skulls from Potapovka I and burials of the much older Botai culture in northern Kazakhstan (Khokhlov 2000a). Botai-Tersek is, in fact, a growing contender for the source of some “eastern” cranial features.

Facial reconstructions based on skulls from (a) Khvalynsk II Grave 24, a young adult male; (b) Poludin Grave 6, Yamnaya culture, a mature male (both by A. I. Nechvaloda); and (c) Luzanovsky cemetery, Srubnaya culture (by L. T. Yablonsky). In Khokhlov (2016).

The wave of peoples associated with “eastern” features can be seen in genetics in the Sintashta outliers from Narasimhan et al. (2018), and it probably will be eventually seen in Abashevo, too. These may be related to the Seima-Turbino international network – but most likely it is directly connected to Sintashta through the starting Andronovo and Seima-Turbino horizons, by admixing of prospective groups and small-scale back-migrations.

Corded Ware – Yamna similarities?

So, if peoples of north-eastern Europe have been assumed for a long time to be Uralic speakers, what is happening with the Corded Ware = IE obsession? Is it Gimbutas’ ghost possessing old archaeologists? Probably not.

It is about certain cultural similarities evident at first sight, which have been traditionally interpreted as a sign of cultural diffusion or migration. Not dissimilar to the many Bell Beaker models available, where each archaeologist is pushing certain differences, mixing what seemed reasonable, what still might seem reasonable, and what certainly isn’t anymore after the latest ancient DNA data.

“European dialect” expansion of Proto-Indo-European according to Gimbutas (1963)

The initial models of Gimbutas, Kristiansen, or Anthony – which are known to many today – were enunciated in the infancy of archaeological studies in the regions, during and just after the fall of the USSR, and before many radiocarbon dates that we have today were published (with radiocarbon dating being still today in need of refinement), so it is only logical that gross mistakes were made.

We have similar gross mistakes related to the origins of Bell Beakers, and studying them was certainly easier than studying eastern data.

  • Gimbutas believed – based mainly on Kurgan-like burials – that Bell Beaker formed from a combination of Yamna settlers with the Vučedol culture, so she was not that far from the truth.
  • The expansion of Corded Ware from peoples of the North Pontic forest-steppe area, proposed by Gimbutas and later supported also by Kristiansen (1989) as the main Indo-European expansion – , is probably also right about the approximate origins of the culture. Only its ‘Indo-European’ nature is in question, given the differences with Khvalynsk and Yamna evolution.
  • Anthony only claimed that Yamna migrants settled in the Balkans and along the Danube into the Hungarian steppes. He never said that Corded Ware was a Yamna offshoot until after the first genetic papers of 2015 (read about his newest proposal). He initially claimed that only certain neighbouring Corded Ware groups “adopted” Indo-European (through cultural diffusion) because of ‘patron-client’ relationships, and was never preoccupied with the fate of Corded Ware and related cultures in the east European forest zone and Finland.

So none of them was really that far from the true picture; we might say a lot people are more way off the real picture today than the picture these three researchers helped create in the 1990s and 2000s. Genetics is just putting the last nail in the coffin of Corded Ware as a Yamna offshoot, instead of – as we believed in the 2000s – to Vučedol and Bell Beaker.

So let’s revise some of these traditional links between Corded Ware and Yamna with today’s data:


Even more than genetics – at least until we have an adequate regional and temporary sampling – , archaeological findings lead what we have to know about both cultures.

It is essential to remember that Corded Ware, starting ca. 3000/2900 BC in east-central Europe, has been proposed to be derived from Early Yamna, which appeared suddenly in the Pontic-Caspian steppes ca. 3300 BC (probably from the late Repin expansion), and expanded to the west ca. 3000.

Early Yamna is in turn identified as the expanding Late Proto-Indo-European community, which has been confirmed with the recent data on Afanasevo, Bell Beaker, and Sintashta-Potapovka and derived cultures.

The question at hand, therefore, is if Corded Ware can be considered an offshoot of the Late PIE community, and thus whether the CWC ethnolinguistic community – proven in genetics to be quite homogeneous – spoke a Late PIE dialect, or if – alternatively – it is derived from other neighbouring cultures of the North Pontic region.

NOTE. The interpretation of an Indo-Slavonic group represented by a previous branching off of the group is untenable with today’s data, since Indo-Slavonic – for those who support it – would itself be a branch of Graeco-Aryan, and Palaeo-Balkan languages expanded most likely with West Yamna (i.e. R1b-L23, mainly R1b-Z2103) to the south.

The convoluted alternative explanation would be that Corded Ware represents an earlier, Middle PIE branch (somehow carrying R1a??) which influences expanding Late PIE dialects; this has been recently supported by Kortlandt, although this simplistic picture also fails to explain the Uralic problem.

Kurgans: The Yamna tradition was inherited from late Repin, in turn inherited from Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka proto-Kurgans. As for the CWC tradition, it is unclear if the tumuli were built as a tradition inherited from North and West Pontic cultures (in turn inherited or copied from Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka), such as late Trypillia, late Kvityana, late Dereivka, late Sredni Stog; or if they were built because of the spread of the ‘Transformation of Europe’, set in motion by the Early Yamna expansion ca. 3300-3000 BC (as found in east-central European cultures like Coţofeni, Lizevile, Șoimuș, or the Adriatic Vučedol). My guess is that it inherits an older tradition than Yamna, with an origin in east-central Europe, because of the mound-building distribution in the North Pontic area before the Yamna expansion, but we may never really know.

Distribution of Pit-Grave burials west of the Black Sea likely dating to the 2nd half of the IVth millennium BC (triangles: side-crouched burials; filled circles: supine extended burials; open circles: suspected). Frînculeasa, Preda, and Heyd (2015)

Burial rite: Yamna features (with regional differences) single burials with body on its back, flexed upright knees, poor grave goods, common orientation east-west (heads to the west) inherited from Repin, in turn inherited from Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka. CWC tradition – partially connected to Złota and surrounding east-central European territories (in turn from the Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka expansion) – features single graves, body in fetal position, strict gender differentiation – men on the right, women on the left -, looking to the south, graves with standardized assemblages (objects representing affirmation of battle, hunting, and feasting). The burial rites clearly represent different ideologies.

Left: Pit-Grave burial types expanded with Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka. Right: Pit-Grave burial types associated with the Yamna expansion and influence. Frînculeasa, Preda, and Heyd (2015)

Corded decoration: Corded ware decoration appears in the Balkans during the 5th millennium, and represents a simple technique whereby a cord is twisted, or wrapped around a stick, and then pressed directly onto the fresh surface of a vessel leaving a characteristic decoration. It appears in many groups of the 5th and 4th millennium BC, but it was Globular Amphorae the culture which popularized the drinking vessels and their corded ornamentation. It appears thus in some regional groups of Yamna, but it becomes the standard pottery only in Corded Ware (especially with the A-horizon), which shows continuity with GAC pottery.

Origins of the first Corded Ware horizon (5th millennium BC) after the Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka expansion. Corded Ware (circles) and horse-head scepters (rectangles) and other steppe elements (triangles). Image from Bulatović (2014).

Economy: Yamna expands from Repin (and Repin from Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka) as a nomadic or semi-nomadic purely pastoralist society (with occasional gathering of wild seeds), which naturally thrives in the grasslands of the Pontic-Caspian, lower Danube and Hungarian steppes. Corded Ware shows agropastoralism (as late Eneolithic forest-steppe and steppe groups of eastern Europe, such as late Trypillian, TRB, and GAC groups), inhabits territories north of the loess line, with heavy reliance of hunter-gathering depending on the specific region.

Cattle herding: Interestingly, both west Yamna and Corded Ware show more reliance on cattle herding than other pastoralist groups, which – contrasted with the previous Eneolithic herding traditions of the Pontic-Caspian steppe, where sheep-goats predominate – make them look alike. However, the cattle-herding economy of Yamna is essential for its development from late Repin and its expansion through the steppes (over western territories practising more hunter-gathering and sheep-goat herding economy), and it does not reach equally the Volga-Ural region, whose groups keep some of the old subsistence economy (read more about the late Repin expansion). Corded Ware, on the other hand, inherits its economic strategy from east European groups like TRB, GAC, and especially late Trypillian communities, showing a predominance of cattle herding within an agropastoral community in the forest-steppe and forest zones of Volhynia, Podolia, and surrounding forest-steppe and forest regions.

Scheme of interlinked socio-economic-ideological innovations forming the Yamnaya. Frînculeasa, Preda, and Heyd (2015)

Horse riding: Horse riding and horse transport is proven in Yamna (and succeeding Bell Beaker and Sintashta), assumed for late Repin (essential for cattle herding in the seas of grasslands that are the steppes, without nearby water sources), quite likely during the Khvalynsk expansion (read more here), and potentially also for Samara, where the predominant horse symbolism of early Khvalynsk starts. Corded Ware – like the north Pontic forest-steppe and forest areas during the Eneolithic – , on the other hand, does not show a strong reliance on horse riding. The high mobility and short-term settlements characteristic of Corded Ware, that are often associated with horse riding by association with Yamna, may or may not be correct, but there is no need for horses to explain their herding economy or their mobility, and the north-eastern European areas – the one which survived after Bell Beaker expansion – did certainly not rely on horses as an essential part of their economy.

NOTE: I cannot think of more supposed similarities right now. If you have more ideas, please share in the comments and I will add them here.

Genetic similarities

EHG: This is the clearest link between both communities. We thought it was related to the expansion of ANE-related ancestry to the west into WHG territory, but now it seems that it will be rather WHG expanding into ANE territory from the Pontic-Caspian region to the east (read more on recent Caucasus Neolithic, on , and on Caucasus HG).

NOTE. Given how much each paper changes what we know about the Palaeolithic, the origin and expansion of the (always developing) known ancestral components and specific subclades (see below) is not clear at all.

CHG: This is the key link between both cultures, which will delimit their interaction in terms of time and space. CHG is intermediate between EHG and Iran N (ca. 8000 BC). The ancestry is thus linked to the Caucasus south of the steppe before the emergence of North Pontic (western) and Don-Volga-Ural (eastern) communities during the Mesolithic. The real question is: when we have more samples from the steppe and the Caucasus during the Neolithic, how many CHG groups are we going to find? Will the new specific ancestral components (say CHG1, CHG2, CHG3, etc.) found in Yamna (from Khvalynsk, in the east) and Corded Ware (probably from the North Pontic forest-steppe) be the same? My guess is, most likely not, unless they are mediated by the Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka expansion (read more on CHG in the Caucasus).

Formation of Yamna and CHG contribution, in Damgaard et al. (Science 2018). A 10-leaf model based on combining the models in Fig. S16 and Fig. S19 and re-estimating the model parameters.

WHG/EEF: This is the obvious major difference – known today – in the formation of both communities in the steppe, and shows the different contacts that both groups had at least since the Eneolithic, i.e. since the expansion of Repin with its renewed Y-DNA bottleneck, and probably since before the early Khvalynsk expansion (read more on Yamna-Corded Ware differences contrasting with Yamna-Afanasevo, Yamna-Bell Beaker, and Yamna-Sintashta similarities).

NOTE 1. Some similarities between groups can be seen depending on the sampled region; e.g. Baltic groups show more similarities with southern Pontic-Caspian steppe populations, probably due to exogamy.

Tested qpGraph model in Tambets et al. (2018). The qpGraph model fitting the data for the tested populations. “Colour codes for the terminal nodes: pink—modern populations (‘Population X’ refers to test population) and yellow—ancient populations (aDNA samples and their pools). Nodes coloured other than pink or yellow are hypothetical intermediate populations. We putatively named nodes which we used as admixture sources using the main recipient among known populations. The colours of intermediate nodes on the qpGraph model match those on the admixture proportions panel.”

NOTE 2. We have this information on the differences in “steppe ancestry” between Yamna and Corded Ware, compared to previous studies, because now we have more samples of neighbouring, roughly contemporaneous Eneolithic groups, to analyse the real admixture processes. This kind of fine scale studies is what is going to show more and more differences between Khvalynsk-Yamna and Sredni Stog-Corded Ware as more data pours in. The evolution of both communities in archaeology and in PCA (see below) is probably witness to those differences yet to be published.

R1: Even though some people try very hard to think in terms of “R1” vs. (Caucasus) J or G or any other upper clade, this is plainly wrong. It is possible, given what we know now, that Q1a2-M242 expanded ANE ancestry to the west ca. 13000 BC, while R1b-P279 expanded WHG ancestry to the east with the expansion of post-Swiderian cultures, creating EHG as a WHG:ANE cline. The role of R1a-M459 is unknown, but it might be related to any of these migrations, or others (plural) along northern Eurasia (read more on the expansion of R1b-P279, on Palaeolithic Q1a2, and on R1a-M417).

NOTE. I am inclined to believe in a speculative Mesolithic-Early Neolithic community involving Eurasiatic movements accross North Eurasia, and Indo-Uralic movements in its western part, with the last intense early Uralic-PIE contacts represented by the forming west (Mariupol culture) and east (Don-Volga-Ural cultures, including Samara) communities developing side by side. Before their known Eneolithic expansions, no large-scale Y-DNA bottleneck is going to be seen in the Pontic-Caspian steppe, with different (especially R1a and R1b subclades) mixed among them, as shown in North Pontic Neolithic, Samara HG, and Khvalynsk samples.

Image modified from Wang et al. (2018). Samples projected in PCA of 84 modern-day West Eurasian populations (open symbols). Previously known clusters have been marked and referenced. Marked and labelled are the Balkan samples referenced in this text An EHG and a Caucasus ‘clouds’ have been drawn, leaving Pontic-Caspian steppe and derived groups between them. See the original file here.

Corded Ware and ‘steppe ancestry’

If we take a look at the evolution of Corded Ware cultures, the expansion of Bell Beakers – dominated over most previous European cultures from west to east Europe – influenced the development of the whole European Bronze Age, up to Mierzanowice and Trzciniec in the east.

The only relevant unscathed CWC-derived groups, after the expansion of Sintashta-Potapovka as the Srubna-Andronovo horizon in the Eurasian steppes, were those of the north-eastern European forest zone: between Belarus to the west, Finland to the north, the Urals to the east, and the forest-steppe region to the south. That is, precisely the region supposed to represent Uralic speakers during the Bronze Age.

This inconsistency of steppe ancestry and its relation with Uralic (and Balto-Slavic) peoples was observed shortly after the publication of the first famous 2015 papers by Paul Heggarty, of the Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (read more):

Haak et al. (2015) make much of the high Yamnaya ancestry scores for (only some!) Indo-European languages. What they do not mention is that those same results also include speakers of other languages among those with the highest of all scores for Yamnaya ancestry. Only these are languages of the Uralic family, not Indo-European at all; and their Yamnaya-ancestry signals are far higher than in many branches of Indo-European in (southern) Europe. Estonian ranks very high, while speakers of the very closely related Finnish are curiously not shown, and nor are the Saami. Hungarian is relevant less directly since this language arrived only c. 900 AD, but also high.


These data imply that Uralic-speakers too would have been part of the Yamnaya > Corded Ware movement, which was thus not exclusively Indo-European in any case. And as well as the genetics, the geography, chronology and language contact evidence also all fit with a Yamnaya > Corded Ware movement including Uralic as well as Balto-Slavic.

Both papers fail to address properly the question of the Uralic languages. And this despite — or because? — the only Uralic speakers they report rank so high among modern populations with Yamnaya ancestry. Their linguistic ancestors also have a good claim to have been involved in the Corded Ware and Yamnaya cultures, and of course the other members of the Uralic family are scattered across European Russia up to the Urals.

NOTE. Although the author was trying to support the Anatolian hypothesis – proper of glottochronological studies often published from the Max Planck Institute – , the question remains equally valid: “if Proto-Indo-European expands with Corded Ware and steppe ancestry, what is happening with Uralic peoples?”

For my part, I claimed in my draft that ancestral components were not the only relevant data to take into account, and that Y-DNA haplogroups R1a and R1b (appearing separately in CWC and Yamna-Bell Beaker-Afanasevo), together with their calculated timeframes of formation – and therefore likely expansion – did not fit with the archaeological and linguistic description of the spread of Proto-Indo-European and its dialects.

In fact, it seemed that only one haplogroup (R1b-M269) was constantly and consistenly associated with the proposed routes of Late PIE dialectal expansions – like Anthony’s second (Afanasevo) and third (Lower Danube, Balkan) waves. What genetics shows fits seamlessly with Mallory’s association of the North-West Indo-European expansion with Bell Beakers (read here how archaeologists were right).

Map of the much beloved steppe (or “Yamnaya”) ancestry in modern populations, by Balanovsky. Modified from Klejn (2017).

More precise inconsistencies were observed after the publication of Olalde et al. (2017) and Mathieson et al. (2017), by Volker Heyd in Kossinna’s smile (2017). Letting aside the many details enumerated (you can read a summary in my latest draft), this interesting excerpt is from the conclusion:

NOTE. An open access ealier draft version of the paper is offered for download by the author.

Simple solutions to complex problems are never the best choice, even when favoured by politicians and the media. Kossinna also offered a simple solution to a complex prehistoric problem, and failed therein. Prehistoric archaeology has been aware of this for a century, and has responded by becoming more differentiated and nuanced, working anthropologically, scientifically and across disciplines (cf. Müller 2013; Kristiansen 2014), and rejecting monocausal explanations. The two aDNA papers in Nature, powerful and promising as they are for our future understanding, also offer rather straightforward messages, heavily pulled by culture-history and the equation of people with culture. This admittedly is due partly to the restrictions of the medium that conveys them (and despite the often relevant additional detail given as supplementary information, which is unfortunately not always given full consideration).

While I have no doubt that both papers are essentially right, they do not reflect the complexity of the past. It is here that archaeology and archaeologists contributing to aDNA studies find their role; rather than simply handing over samples and advising on chronology, and instead of letting the geneticists determine the agenda and set the messages, we should teach them about complexity in past human actions and interactions. If accepted, this could be the beginning of a marriage made in heaven, with the blessing smile of Gustaf Kossinna, and no doubt Vere Gordon Childe, were they still alive, in a reconciliation of twentieth- and twenty-first-century approaches. For us as archaeologists, it could also be the starting point for the next level of a new archaeology.

Main distribution of Yamnaya kurgans in the Pontic-Caspian steppe of modern day Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan, and its western branch in modern south-east European countries of Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Hungary, with numbers of excavated kurgans and graves given. Picture: Volker Heyd (2018).

The question was made painfully clear with the publication of Olalde et al. (2018) & Mathieson et al. (2018), where the real route of Yamna expansion into Europe was now clearly set through the steppes into the Carpathian basin, later expanded as Bell Beakers.

This has been further confirmed in more recent papers, such as Narasimhan et al. (2018), Damgaard et al. (2018), or Wang et al. (2018), among others.

However, the discussion is still dominated by political agendas based on prevalent Y-DNA haplogroups in modern countries and ethnic groups.


On the origin and spread of haplogroup R1a-Z645 from eastern Europe


In my recent post about the origin and expansion of haplogroup R1b-L51, Chetan made an interesting comment on the origin and expansion of R1a-Z645. Since this haplogroup is also relevant for European history and dialectal North-West Indo-European and Indo-Iranian expansion, I feel compelled to do a similar post, although the picture right now is more blurry than that of R1b-L51.

I find it interesting that many geneticists would question the simplistic approach to the Out of Africa model as it is often enunciated, but they would at the same time consider the current simplistic model of Yamna expansion essentially right; a model – if anyone is lost here – based on proportions of the so-called Yamnaya™ ancestral component, as found in a small number of samples, from four or five Eneolithic–Chalcolithic cultures spanning more than a thousand years.

The “75% Yamnaya ancestry of Corded Ware”, which has been given so much publicity since 2015, made geneticists propose a “Yamna → Corded Ware → Únětice / Bell Beaker” migration model, in order of decreasing Yamnaya proportions. Y-DNA and solid archaeological models suggested that this model was wrong, and recent findings have proven it was. In fact, the CWC sample closest to Yamna was a late outlier of Esperstedt in Central Europe, whose ancestry is most likely directly related to Yamna settlers from Hungary.

These wrong interpretations have been now substituted by data from two new early samples from the Baltic, which cluster closely to Yamna, and which – based on the Y-DNA and PCA cluster formed by all Corded Ware samples – are likely the product of female exogamy with Yamna peoples from the neighbouring North Pontic region (as we are seeing, e.g. in the recent Nikitin et al. 2018).

NOTE. There is also another paper from Nikitin et al. (2017), with more ancient mtDNA, “Subdivisions of haplogroups U and C encompass mitochondrial DNA lineages of Eneolithic-Early Bronze Age Kurgan populations of western North Pontic steppe”. Link to paper (behind paywall). Most interesting data is summarized in the following table:


Even after the publication of Olalde et al. (2018) and Wang et al. (2018) – where expanding Yamna settlers and Bell Beakers are clearly seen highly admixed within a few generations, and are found spread across a wide Eurasian cline (sharing one common invariable trait, the paternally inherited haplogroup, as supported by David Reich) – fine-scale studies of population structure and social dynamics is still not a thing for many, even though it receives more and more advocates among geneticists (e.g. Lazaridis, or Veeramah).

NOTE. I have tried to explain, more than once, that the nature and origin of the so-called “Yamnaya ancestry” (then “steppe ancestry”, and now subdivided further as Steppe_EMBA and Steppe_MLBA) is not known with precision before Yamna samples of ca. 3000 BC, and especially that it is not necessarily a marker of Indo-European speakers. Why some people are adamant that steppe ancestry and thus R1a must be Indo-European is mostly related to a combination of grandaddy’s haplogroup, the own modern ethnolinguistic attribution, and an aversion to sharing grandpa with other peoples and cultures.

In the meantime, we are seeing the “Yamnaya proportion” question often reversed: “how do we make Corded Ware stem from Yamna, now that we believed it?”. This is a funny circular reasoning, akin to the one used by proponents of the Franco-Cantabrian origin of R1b, when they look now at EEF proportions in Iberian R1b-L23 samples. It seems too comic to be true.

R1a and steppe ancestry

The most likely origin of haplogroup R1a-Z645 is to be found in eastern Europe. Samples published in the last year support this region as a sort of cradle of R1a expansions:

  • I1819, Y-DNA R1a1-M459, mtDNA U5b2, Ukraine Mesolithic ca. 8825-8561 calBCE, from Vasilievka.
  • I5876, Y-DNA R1a, mtDNA U5a2a, Ukraine Mesolithic 7040-6703 calBCE, from Dereivka.
  • I0061, hg R1a1-M459 (xR1a1a-M17), mtDNA C1, ca. 6773-6000 calBCE (with variable dates), from Yuzhnyy Oleni Ostrov in Karelia.
  • Samples LOK_1980.006 and LOK_1981.024.01, of hg MR1a1a-M17, mtDNA F, Baikalic cultures, dated ca. 5500-5000 BC.
  • Sample I0433, hg R1a1-M459(xM198), mtDNA U5a1i, from Samara Eneolithic, ca. 5200-4000 BCE
  • Samples A3, A8, A9, of hg R1a1-M459, mtDNA H, from sub-Neolithic cultures (Comb Ware and Zhizhitskaya) at Serteyea, although dates (ca. 5th-3rd millennium BC) need possibly a revision (from Chekunova 2014).

NOTE. The fact that Europe is better sampled than North Asia, coupled with the finding of R1a-M17 in Baikalic cultures, poses some problems as to the precise origin of this haplogroup and its subclades. While the first (Palaeolithic or Mesolithic) expansion was almost certainly from Northern Eurasia to the west – due to the Mal’ta sample – , it is still unknown if the different subclades of R1a in Europe are the result of local developments, or rather different east—west migrations through North Eurasia.

Y-Full average estimates pointed to R1a-M417 formation ca. 6500 BC, TMRCA ca. 3500 BC, and R1a-Z645 formation ca. 3300 BC, TMRCA ca. 2900 BC, so the most likely explanation was that R1a-Z645 and its subclades – similar to R1b-L23 subclades, but slightly later) expanded quickly with the expansion of Corded Ware groups.

The presence of steppe ancestry in Ukraine Eneolithic sample I6561, of haplogroup R1a-M417, from Alexandria, dated ca. 4045-3974 calBCE, pointed to the forest steppe area and late Sredni Stog as the most likely territory from where the haplogroup related to the Corded Ware culture expanded.

However, the more recent Y-SNP call showing R1a-Z93 (L657) subclade rendered Y-Full’s (at least formation) estimates too young, so we have to rethink the actual origin of both subclades, R1a-Z93 (formation ca. 2900 BC, TMRCA ca 2700 BC), and R1a-Z283 (formation ca. 2900 BC, TMRCA ca. 2800 BC).

Contrary to what we thought before this, then, it is possible that the expansion of Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka chieftains through the steppes, around the mid-5th millennium BC, had something to do with the expansion of R1a-Z645 to the north, in the forest steppe.

We could think that the finding of Z93 in Alexandria after the expansion of Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka chiefs would make it more likely that R1a-Z645 will be found in the North Pontic area. However, given that Lower Mikhailovka and Kvitjana seem to follow a steppe-related cultural tradition, different to forest steppe cultures (like Dereivka and Alexandria), and that forest steppe cultures show connections to neighbouring northern and western forest regions, the rest of the expanding R1a-Z645 community may not be related directly to the steppe at all.

Adding a hypothetical split and expansion of Z645 subclades to the mid-/late-5th millennium could place the expansion of this haplogroup to the north and west, pushed by expanding Middle PIE-speaking steppe peoples from the east:

Schematic depiction of the spread of horse-head scepters in the Middle Eneolithic, representing expanding Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka chieftains. See a full version with notes here.

The Złota culture

I have already written about the Podolia-Volhynia region: about the North Pontic steppe cultures in contact with this area, and about the chaotic period of migrations when Corded Ware seem to have first emerged there among multi-directional and multi-ethnic migrants.

This is what Włodarczak (2017) says about the emergence of Corded Ware with ‘steppe features’ after the previous expansion of such features in Central Europe with Globular Amphorae peoples. He refers here to the Złota culture (appearing ca. 2900-2800 BC) in Lesser Poland, believed to be the (or a) transitional stage between GAC and Corded Ware, before the emergence of the full-fledged “Corded Ware package”.

So far, to the north of the Carpathian Mountains, including Polish lands, no graves indicating their relationship with communities of the steppe zone have been found. On the contrary, the funeral rites always display a local, central European nature. However, individual elements typical of steppe communities do appear, such as the “frog-like” arrangement of the body (Fig. 20), or items associated with Pit Grave milieux (cf. Klochko, Kośko 2009; Włodarczak 2014). A spectacular example of the latter is the pointed-base vessel of Pit Grave culture found at the cemetery in Święte, site 11 near Jarosław (Kośko et al. 2012). These finds constitute a confirmation of the importance of the relationships between communities of Pit Grave culture and Corded Ware culture. They are chronologically diverse, although most of them are dated to 2600-2400 BC – that is, to the “classic” period of Corded Ware culture.

Map of territorial ranges of Funnel Beaker Culture (and its settlement concentrations in Lesser Poland), local Trypillian groups and early Corded Ware Culture settlements (◼) at the turn of the 4th/3rd millennia BC.

However, when discussing the relationships with the steppe communities, Polish lands deserve particular attention since part of the groups inhabiting it belonged to the eastern province of Corded Ware culture (cf. Häusler 2014), which neighboured Pit Grave culture both from the east and south. In addition, there was a tradition of varied relationships with the north Pontic zone, which began to intensify from the second half of the 4th millennium BC (Kośko, Szmyt, 2009; Kośko, Klochko, 2009). These connections are especially readable in Małopolska and Kujawy (Kośko 2014; Włodarczak 2014). The emergence of the community of Globular Amphora culture in the north Pontic zone at the end of the 4th and the beginnings of the 3rd millennium BC (Szmyt 1999) became a harbinger of a cultural closening between the worlds of central Europe and the steppe.

The second important factor taking place at that time was the expansion of the people of Pit Grave culture in a westerly direction, along the Danube thoroughfare. As a result of this, also to the south of the Carpathian Mountains, e.g., along the upper Tisza River, a new “kurgan” cultural system was formed. As one outcome, the areas of central Europe, above all Małopolska, found themselves in the vicinity of areas inhabited by communities characterized by new principles of social organization and a new funeral rite. Around 2800 BC these changes became evident in different regions of Poland, with the most numerous examples being documented in south-eastern Poland and Kujawy. The nature of the funeral rite and the features of the material culture perceptible at that time do not have straight forward analogies in the world of north Pontic communities. In this respect, the “A-horizon” is a phenomenon of local, central European origin. The events preceding the emergence of the said horizon (that is, the expansion of the people of Pit Grave culture into the area north of the arc of the Carpathians) are nowadays completely unidentifiable and remain merely an interesting theoretical matter (cf. e.g., Kośko 2000). Therefore, analysis of the archaeological sources cannot confirm the first archaeogenetic analysis suggesting a bond between the communities of the Pit Grave culture and Corded Ware culture (e.g., Haak et al. 2015).

Artefacts of the “A-horizon”, i.e., shaft-hole axes, amphorae (Fig. 21), beakers, and pots with a plastic wavy strip (Fig. 7) are found in different funerary and settlement contexts, sometimes jointly with finds having characteristics of various cultures (e.g., in graves of Złota culture, or at settlements of Rzucewo culture). Hence, they primarily represent a chronological phase (c. 2800-2600 BC), one obviously related to the expansion of a new ideology.

Eastern CWC expansion

Before continuing tracing the Corded Ware culture’s main features, it is worth it to trace first their movement forward in time, as Corded Ware settlers, from Poland to the east.

Circum-Baltic CWC

According to Klochko and Kośko (1998):

The colonizing Neolithic waves are continued by the Circum-Baltic Corded Ware culture, closely related to the traditions of the Single Grave culture and traditions of the Northern European Lowlands. After ca. 2900 BC, certain cultural systems with ‘corded’ traits –genetically related to the catchment area of the south-western Baltic – appear in the drainages of the Nemen, Dvina, Upper Dnieper, and even the Volga. These communities are considered the vector of Neolithisation in the Forest Zone.

East European movement directions (arrows) of the representatives of the Central European Corded Ware Culture. Modified from I.I. Artemenko.

The picture in the Baltic (Pamariu / Rzucewo) and Finland (Battle Axe) is thus more or less clearly connected with early dates ca. 2900-2800 BC:

There is a clear interaction sphere between the eastern Gulf of Finland area – reaching from Estonia to the areas of present-day Finland and the Karelian Isthmus in Russia –, evidenced e.g. by the sharp-butted axes, derived from the Estonian Karlova axe.

Interesting in this regard is the expansion of the Corded Ware culture in Finland, into a far greater territory than previously thought, that is poorly represented in most maps depicting the extent of the culture in Europe. Here is summary of CWC findings in Finland, using images from Nordqvist and Häkäla (2014):

Corded Ware culture remains in Finland, excluding the so-called ‘imitations’. [Notice in the top left image the often depicted border of the culture]. Combination of maps from Nordqvist & Häkälä (2014)

Middle Dnieper and Fatyanovo

The earliest Middle Dnieper remains are related to CWC graves between the Upper Vistula and the Bug, containing pottery with Middle Dnieper traits, dated probably ca. 2700 BC, which links it with the expansion of the A-horizon. In fact, during the period ca. 2800-2400 BC, the area of Lesser Poland (with its numerous kurgans and catacomb burials) is considered the western fringe of an area spreading to the east, to the middle Dniester and middle Dnieper river basins, i.e. regions bordering the steppe oecumene. This ‘eastern connection’ of funeral ritual, raw materials, and stylistic traits of artefacts is also identified in some graves of the Polish Lowlands (Włodarczak 2017).

Cultural situation in Eastern Europe in approximately the middle of the III mill. BC. Key: 1 – areas settled by Globular Amphora culture populations; 2 – areas penetrated by Globular Amphora culture populations; 3 – border between central and eastern group; 4 – Pamariu/Rzucewo culture area; 5 – zone of Pamariu/Rzucewo culture influences; 6 – directions of Comb Pottery culture influence; 7 – Zhizhitskaya culture; 8 – eastern border of “pure” Corded Ware site; 9 – North Belarussian culture; 10 – Middle Dnieper culture; 11 – Fatyanovo culture; 12 – Yamnaya culture; 13 – eastern border of Dniester group; 14 – Kemi-Oba culture and influences; 15 – Foltesti culture; 16 – syncretic sites with evidence of Globular Amphora culture traits (1 – Nida; 2 – Butinge; 3 – Palanga; 4 – Juodkrante; 5 – Azyarnoye; 6 – Mali Rogi; 7 – Prorva; 8 – Strumen/Losha; 9 – Syabrovichi; 10 – Luchin-Zavale; 11 – Lunevo (?); 12 – Belynets; 13 – Losiatyn; 14 – Corpaci; 15 – Ocnita; 16-17 – Camenca; 18 – Marculesti; 19 – Orhei; 20 – Efimovka; 21 – Tatarbunary; 22 – Novoselitsa; 23 – Primorskoye; 24 – Sanzhiyka; 25 – Akkermen; 26 – Maydanetskoye; 27 – Grigorevka; 28 – Kholmskoye; 29 – Purcari; 30 – Roscani; 31 – Semenovka; 32 – Grishevka; 33 – Durna Skela; 34 – Iskovshchina; 35 – Primorskoye); 17 – borders of ecological zones. From Szmyt (2010)

The Fatyanovo (or Fatyanovo-Balanovo) culture was the easternmost group of the Corded Ware culture, and occupied the centre of the Russian Plain, from Lake Ilmen and the Upper Dnieper drainage to the Wiatka River and the middle course of the Volga. From the few available dates, the oldest ones from the plains of the Moskva river, and from the late Volosovo culture containing also Fatyanovo materials, and in combination they show a date of ca. 2700 BC for its appearance in the region. The Volosovo culture of foragers eventually disappeared when the Fatyanovo culture expanded into the Upper and Middle Volga basin.

The origin of the culture is complicated, because it involves at its earliest stage different Corded Ware influences in neighbouring sites, at least on the Moskva river plains (Krenke et al. 2013): some materials (possibly earlier) show Circum-Baltic and Polish features; other sites show a connection to western materials, in turn a bridge to the Middle Dnieper culture. This suggests that groups belonging to different groups of the corded ware tradition penetrated the Moscow region.

The split of subclades Z93 – Z283

If we take into account that the split between R1-Z93 and R1a-Z283 must have happened during the 5th millennium BC, we have R1a-Z93 likely around the middle Dnieper area (as supported by the Alexandria sample), and R1a-Z283 possibly to the north(-west), so that it could have expanded easily into Central Europe, and – through the northern, Baltic region – to the east.

Where exactly lies the division is unclear, but for the moment all reported Circum-Baltic samples with Z645 subclades seem to belong to Z282, while R1a samples from Sintashta/Potapovka (including the Poltavka outlier) point to Abashevo being dominated by R1a-Z93 subclades.

We have to assume, then, that an original east-west split betwen R1a-Z283 and R1a-Z93 turned, in the eastern migrations, into a north-south split between Z282 and Z93, where Finland and Battle Axe in general is going to show Z282, and Middle Dnieper – Abashevo Z93 subclades.

Early Copper Age migrations ca. 3100-2600 BC.

I can think of two reasons why this is important:

  1. Depending on how Proto-Corded Ware peoples expanded, we may be talking about one community overcoming the other and imposing its language. Because either
    • clans of both Z93 and Z283 were quite close and kept intense cultural contacts around Dnieper-Dniester area; or
    • if the split is as early as the 5th millennium BC, and both communities separated then without contact, we are probably going to see a difference in the language spoken by both of them.
  2. In any case, the main north-south division of eastern Corded Ware groups is pointing to an important linguistic division within the Uralic-speaking communities, specifically between a Pre-Finno-Ugric and a Pre-Samoyedic one, and potentially between Pre-Finno-Permic and Pre-Ugric.

These may seem irrelevant questions – especially for people interested only in Indo-European migrations. However, for those interested in the history of Eurasian peoples and languages as a whole, they are relevant: even those who support an ‘eastern’ origin of Proto-Uralic, like Häkkinen, or Parpola (who are, by the way, in the minority, because most Uralicists would point to eastern Europe well before the Yamna expansion), place the Finno-Ugric expansion with the Netted Ware culture as the latest possible Finno-Ugric immigrants in Fennoscandia.

The Netted Ware culture

The image below shows the approximate expansion of Corded Ware peoples of Battle Axe traditions in Finland, as well as neighbouring Fennoscandian territories, from ca. 2800 BC until the end of the 3rd millennium. A controversial 2nd (late) wave of the so-called Estonian Corded Ware is popular in texts about this region, but has not been substantiated, and it seems to be a regional development, rather than the product of migrations.

Left: Corded Ware remains in Finland from ca. 2800 BC, according to Nordqvist & Häkälä (2014), combined in a single image. Right: Distribution of the Corded Ware culture within Finland. Mapped (black dots) are finds of typical stone battle axes, used as a proxy (data from [8]). The red isolines indicate average permanent snow cover period from 1981 to 2010 (data from [9]). A recent study estimates the snow cover period ca 4500 years ago would have been 40–50 days less than today [10]. Overlying coloration refers to the lactose persistance (LP) allele gradient in modern northeastern Europe (see the electronic supplementary material, appendix B: Material and methods and table 1, for details); lozenge dots specify the dataset mean points for the triangulation. From Cramp et al. (2014).

As we have seen, Fatyanovo represents the most likely cultural border zone between Circum-Baltic peoples reaching from the Russian Battle Axe to the south, and Middle Dnieper peoples reaching from Abashevo to the north. In that sense, it also represents the most likely border culture between north-western (mainly R1a-Z282) and south-eastern (R1a-Z93) subclades.

With worsening climatic conditions (cooler seasons) at the end of the 3rd millennium, less settlements are apparent in the archaeological record in Finland. After ca. 2000 BC, two CWC-related cultures remain: in the coast, the Kiukainen culture, derived from the original Circum-Baltic Corded Ware settlers, reverts to a subsistence economy which includes hunting and fishing, and keeps mainly settlements (from the best territories) along the coast. In the inland, Netted Ware immigrants eventually appear from the south.

Image modified from Cramp et al. (2014) “The timeline shows the archaeological cultures
discussed here alongside actual sherds sampled and typical vessel forms (after [26–28]) (latter not shown to scale). Distribution maps show the geographical range of (f) Typical Comb Ware, (g) Corded Ware, (h) Kiukainen Ware and (i) Bronze Age cultures in the region (after [10,20,29]).”

The Netted Ware culture emerged in the Upper Volga–Oka region, derived from the Abashevo culture and its interaction with the Seima-Turbino network, and spread ca. 1900-1800 BC to the north into Finland, spreading into eastern regions previously occupied by cultures producing asbestos and organic-tempered wares (Parpola 2018).

NOTE. Those ‘contaminated’ by the Copenhagen fantasy map series may think that Volosovo hunter-gatherers somehow survived the expansion of Fatyanovo-Balanovo and Abashevo, hidden for hundreds of years in the forest, and then reappeared and expanded the Netted Ware culture. Well, they didn’t. At least not in archaeological terms, and certainly not with the genetic data we have.

If we combine all this information, and we think about these peoples in terms of Pre-Finno-Permic and Pre-Ugric languages developing side by side, we get a really interesting picture (see here for Proto-Fennic estimates):

  • The Battle Axe around the Baltic Sea – including the Gulf of Finland and Scandinavia – would be the area of expansion of Pre-Finno-Permic peoples, of R1a-Z283 subclades, which became later concentrated mainly on coastal regions;
  • the southern areas may correspond to Pre-Ugric peoples, which expanded later to the north with Netted Ware (see image below) – their precise subclades may be dependent on what will be found in Fatyanovo;
  • and Pre-Samoyedic peoples (of R1a-Z93 subclades) would have become isolated somewhere in the Cis- or (more likely) Trans-Urals region after 2000 BC, possibly from the interaction of the latest Balanovo stages and the Seima-Turbino phenomenon.
Distribution of the Netted Ware according to Carpelan (2002: 198). A: Emergence of the Netted Ware on the Upper Volga c. 1900 calBC. B: Spread of Netted Ware by c. 1800 calBC. C: Early Iron Age spread of Netted Ware. (After Carpelan 2002: 198 > Parpola 2012a: 151.)

These communities in contact would have allowed for:

  • the known Indo-Iranian loanwords in Finno-Ugric to spread through a continuum of early dialects formed by Abashevo – Fatyanovo – Battle Axe groups;
  • the Finno-Saamic substrate of Germanic to be associated with Battle Axe groups in Scandinavia;
  • the important Palaeo-Germanic loanwords in Finno-Saamic spreading with long-term contacts (from Pre-Germanic to the Proto-Germanic, and later North Germanic period) through the Baltic Sea, between Scandinavia and the Gulf of Finland;
  • and Tocharian contacts with Samoyedic (although limited, and in part controversial), which point to its early expansion to the east of the Ural Mountains.

On the other hand, if one is inclined to believe that R1a and steppe ancestry do represent Indo-European speakers… which language was spoken from the Gulf of Finland well into the north, the inland, and Karelia, and in Northern Russia, by Corded Ware peoples and their cultural heirs (like Kiukainen or Netted Ware) for almost three thousand years?

Because we know that no other peoples of different haplogroups dominated over eastern Fennoscandia until the Iron Age, and N1c and Siberian ancestry expanded separately, and probably due to late bottlenecks, especially with Fennic peoples expanding recently to the north at the expense of the Saami population.

After the expansion of Bell Beaker peoples, the geographic distribution of late Corded Ware groups in the second half of the 3rd millennium, just before their demise – and before the expansion of Netted Ware to the north – , can be depicted thus as follows:

Early Bronze Age Europe.

Territories in cyan must then represent, for some people who believe in an archaic Indo-Slavonic of sorts, the famous Fennoscandian Balto-Slavic to the north (before they were displaced by incoming Finno-Saamic peoples of hg N1c during the Iron Age and up to the Middle Ages); and the also famous Tundra-Forest Indo-Iranian in the Upper Volga area, a great environment for the development of the two-wheeled chariot…

But let’s leave the discussion on imaginary IE dialects for another post, and continue with the real question at hand.

A steppe funerary connection?

Back to Złota as a transitional culture, we have already seen how the corded ware vessels characteristic of the Classic CWC are related to Globular Amphora tradition, and show no break with this culture. It is usually believed that the funerary rites were adopted from steppe influence, too. That is probably right; but it does not mean that it came from Yamna or other coeval (or previous) steppe culture; at least not directly.

NOTE. A similar problem is seen when we read that Mierzanowice or Trzciniec show “Corded Ware” traits from a neighbouring CWC group, when CWC groups disappeared long before these cultures emerged. For cultural groups that are separated centuries from each other, an assertion as to their relationship needs specifics in terms of dates and material connection, or it is plainly wrong.

These are the funerary ritual features from Złota (later specialized in Corded Ware), as described by Włodarczak (2017):

  • Single burial graves; along with the habit of interring the deceased in multiple burial graves, but emphasizing their individual character by careful deposition of the body and personal nature of the grave goods.
  • Grave goods with materials and stylistiscs belonging to an older system (e.g. amber products); and others correlated to the ‘new world’ of the CWC, such as flint products made of the raw materials tipical of Lesser Poland’s CWC, copper ornaments, stone shaft-hole axes, bone and shell ornaments, and characteristic forms of vessels like beakers and amphoras.
  • Military goods, which would become prevalent in later periods, are present in a moderate number, compatible with their lesser importance.
  • There are also cases of the characteristic catacomb (“niche”) graves – with an entrance pit, a more extensive niche, and a narrow corridor leading to a vault – , as well as some individual cases of application of ochre and deformation of skulls.
Catacomb grave no. 2a/06 from Książnice, Złota culture (acc. to Wilk 2013). Image from Włodarczak (2017)

It seems that the Złota funerary tradition was also “transitional”, like corded ware vessels, into the classical Corded Ware ideology. But “transitional” from what exactly? Yamna? Probably not.

The Lublin-Volhynia culture

One needs not look for a too distant culture to find similarities. Włodarczak (2017) points to CWC in south-eastern Poland and Kuyavia showing, by the time of the Yamna expansion, a funeral rite and features of the material culture without straightforward analogies in the world of north Pontic communities, and thus suggests that the “A-horizon” is a local phenomenon of central European origin.

This assertion is interesting, in so far as most Corded Ware samples investigated to date seem to come precisely from an East-Central territory near the Ukraine forest steppe, with a cluster already established by the end of the 5th millennium:

Image modified from Wang et al. (2018). Samples projected in PCA of 84 modern-day West Eurasian populations (open symbols). Previously known clusters have been marked and referenced. An EHG and a Caucasus ‘clouds’ have been drawn, leaving Pontic-Caspian steppe and derived groups between them.See the original file here.

The following text is from Stanisław Wilk (2018), about the Lublin-Volhynian (and related) cemeteries at Wyciąże and Książnice:

A reach of the Wyciąże-Złotniki group and Lublin-Volhynian culture in the south-eastern Poland and western Ukraine: 1. Area of the Wyciąże-Złotniki group; 2. Area of the Lublin-Volhynian culture. A. Cemetery of the Lublin-Volhynian culture at site 2 in Książnice; B. Cemetery of the Wyciąże-Złotniki group at site 5 in Kraków Nowa Huta-Wyciąże (drawing by S. Wilk based on Zakościelna 2006 and Nowak 2014, on a background downloaded from

Regardless of the differences between the two necropolises (such as the number of burials, the area which has been explored, the orientation and layout of burials), it seems that they have several key elements in common:

  • concentration of graves in separate cemeteries;
  • differentiation of burials with regard to sex (the principle of the ‘left ̶ right’ side, different burial goods for males and females);
  • stratification of graves with regard to the richness of their inventories (this mainly applied to copper artefacts);
  • occurrence of indicators of the richest male burials (a copper dagger in Wyciąże, a copper battle axe, a small axe and a chisel in Książnice);
  • allocation of a separate area for elite burials (the eastern burial area in Książnice, and the southeastern and north-central part of the necropolis in Wyciąże), as well as one for egalitarian burials (the western area in Książnice, and the south-central and western part of the cemetery in Wyciąże).
Plan of the Lublin-Volhynian culture cemetery at site 2 in Książnice: 1. female graves; 2. man graves; 3. copper traces; 4. cenothap; 5. cremation grave; 6. partial grave; 7. estimated area of the L-VC cemetery; 8. estimated area of an elite and poor burial fields; 9. area of burials containing copper artefacts (drawing by S. Wilk).

The above-mentioned characteristics prove that the patterns of social and religious behaviours from areas lying beyond the Carpathian Mountains exerted a strong influence on the two societies living in Lesser Poland.

Anna Zakościelna, while describing the similarities between the burial ritual of the late Polgár groups and cultures from areas on the Tisza river and the Lublin-Volhynia culture, claimed that:

a characteristic feature of the burial ritual of both cultures was practicing various group norms, which required different treatment of the deceased depending on their sex, age and social rank. As in the Lublin-Volhynia culture, the opposition ‘male – female’ can the most clearly be observed ̶ particularly, in the consistent positioning of males on the right, and females, on the left side. And, there is much indication that this ritual norm divided the deceased from early childhood (Sofaer Derevensky 1997: 877, Tab. 1; Lichter 2001: 276- 280, 322-323) (Zakościelna 2010: 227-228).

It seems that these observations can also be extended to the Wyciąże-Złotniki group.

Another question is whether the evidence of the influences of the copper civilization observed in both cemeteries emerged as a result of the literal copying of patterns from the south, or whether the latter were only a source of inspiration for local solutions.

Looking at this problem form the perspective of the details of burial ritual, between the Carpathian Basin and Lesser Poland, we can observe clear differences, among others, in the size of cemeteries and orientation of burials. While, in the Carpathian Basin there were large necropolises, consisting of several dozen burials located in rows, with the dominant orientation along the SE-NW and E-W axis (Lichter 2001: Abb. 123, 143; Kadrow 2008: 87); in Lesser Poland there were small cemeteries of several to a dozen or so burials, mostly oriented along the S-N axis (in the Lublin-Volhynia culture; Zakościelna 2010: 66), as well as S-E and NE-SW (in the Wyciąże-Złotniki group; Kaczanowska 2009: 77). Similarly, there are differences in the details of the burial goods. North of the Carpathians, there is a much smaller frequency of copper artefacts, particularly in the group of prestigious, heavy items (battle axes, axes and daggers), as well as a complete lack of objects made of gold. Want is more, the pottery found in the graves has a distinct local character, only supplemented by imitating or imports from areas beyond the Carpathians (Zakościelna 2006: 85; Nowak 2014: 273; a different opinion Kozłowski 2006: 57). Therefore, the suggestion made by Nowak seems right ̶ namely, that these influences were not caused by migrations of groups of the population living on the Tisza river to Lesser Poland, but were rather due to processes of selective cultural transmission (Nowak 2014: 273).

Therefore, the sharing of a similar funerary rite (as happened later between Lublin-Volhynia and Złota), although it shows a strong cultural connection with autochthonous cultures, is obviously not the same as sharing ancestors; and even if it were so, they would not need to be paternal ancestors. But it shows that important Corded Ware cultural traits are local developments, and it disconnects thus still more supposed CWC ‘steppe traits’ from steppe cultures, and connects them with the first steppe-related cultural wave that reached central Europe in the 5th millennium BC.

Prehistoric Pontic—Caspian links

How would a Lublin-Volhynia culture be related to the North Pontic area ca. 4500-3000 BC? We can enjoy the map series of Baltic—Pontic migrations by Viktor Klochko (2009), and make a wild guess:

Pontic—Baltic routes of migrations during the Eneolithic. Top left: Linear Pottery expansion. Top right: Funnel Beaker expansion. Bottom left: late Trypillia expansion. Bottom right: GAC expansion.

And then read the account of Sławomir Kadrow, in Exchange of People, Ideas and Things between Cucuteni-Trypillian Complex and Areas of South-Eastern Poland (2016):

In the second half of the 5th millennium BC (horizon 1), communities of the Tripolye culture, phases BI-BII, had contacts with the population of the late (IIa) phase of the Malice culture. The areas settled by both cultural complexes were located at a great distance from each other. The communities of the Tripolye culture adopted selected features of Malice ceramic production (fig 2). This seems to have resulted from marital exchange: on a moderate scale, Tripolye men sought out their wives in the area of the Malice culture and, according to patrilocal marriage customs, the women then moved to the Tripolye settlements, sporadically transferring ready-made ceramic products, so-called imports, to the Tripolye culture. Thus, the wives were responsible for the considerably more numerous imitations of the Malice ceramics and the long-lasting, though selective, traditions of Malice pottery passed down in their new environment. The patrilocal marriage customs involving the Malice women and the Tripolye men (never the other way round), and the fact that pottery was women’s domain, led to the unidirectional transfer of vessels, technology and norms of ceramic production from the Malice culture to the Tripolye culture.

The turn of the 5th and the 4th millennia and the early 4th millennium BC (horizon 2) witnessed the deepening interaction between the populations of the youngest (IIb) phase of the Malice culture and the classic (II) phase of the Lublin-Volhynia culture on the one hand and the communities of phase BII of the Tripolye culture on the other. The Danube and the Tripolye settlement complexes came into contact on the upper Dniester and between the Styr and the Horyn rivers in Volhynia. This helped to continue the previous forms of marital exchange, which resulted in further popularisation of the ceramics and the traditions of ceramic production typical of the Danube cultures, i.e. the Malice and the Lublin-Volhynia cultures, and also the Polgár culture, in the areas settled by the Tripolye cultural complex.

As the civilizational norms of the Eneolithic (Copper) Age became widespread in that period, the forms of interaction described above acquired new elements. The deepening internal diversification of the early Eneolithic communities of the Lublin-Volhynia culture led to a growing demand for prestige objects, which was met with import or imitation of copper artefacts, mainly those from the Carpathian Basin, and with flint tools produced from long blades. That type of flint production depended largely on new technologies derived from the Tripolye culture, as proven by such borrowings as troughlike retouch or the very idea and technology for the production of long flint blades in the Lublin-Volhynia culture. It seems that the influx of Tripolye settlers into flintbearing areas in Volhynia and on the upper Dniester, adjacent to the settlement centres of the late phase of the Malice culture and the Lublin-Volhynia culture, created sufficient conditions for the expanding influence of the Tripolye flint working on the communities of the Eneolithic Lublin-Volhynia culture.

In the mid-4th millennium BC (horizon 3), those forms of interaction between the Danube communities (the late phase of the Lublin-Volhynian culture) and the Tripolye communities (phase CI)were continued. Elements of the Danube pottery still grew in popularity in the Tripolye population, while selected features of the Tripolye flint working were adopted by the Lublin-Volhynia culture.

In that period, the population of the Funnel Beaker culture of the pre-classic and early classic phases (the beginnings of Gródek 1 and Bronocice III), until then absent from those areas, quite quickly drove out and replaced the Danube population in western Volhynia and the upper Dniester basin. This caused significant changes in the forms and intensity of the intercultural interaction, which became fully apparent already in the 2nd half of the 4th millennium BC.

In the following period (horizon 4), the population of the classic phase of the Funnel Beaker culture (Gródek 1, Bronocice III) settled more and more intensively the upper Dniester basin, up to the Hnyla Lypa river, and western Volhynia, up to the Styr river. East of those rivers, the Funnel Beaker settlers created considerable areas where they mixed with settlers from early phase CII of the Tripolye culture. Their coexistence, lasting there for many generations, resulted in deepening the interactions between members of both cultural complexes and in developing entirely new forms of relationships.


The intensifying interaction between the communities of the Funnel Beaker culture and the Tripolye culture, early phase CII, in the 2nd half of the 4th millennium BC (horizon 4) was an introduction to, and perhaps a condition for, even more frequent contacts in the next period, the first centuries of the 3rd millennium BC (horizon 5). In that case, the interaction was mainly triggered by multidirectional migrations of larger human groups, involving a significant part of the population of all cultures from the areas discussed here. The Tripolye communities of younger phase CII settled Volhynia, its eastern areas in particular, from the south and the south-east, while groups representing the younger phases of the Funnel Beaker culture (Gródek 2), often with Baden features (Bronocice IV and V), moved increasingly into the western part of that region. The Yamna communities expanded along the lower and central Danube to the west, whereas the populations of the late phase of the Baden culture took the opposite direction, reaching as far as Kiev in the northeast, and contributed to the cultural character of the Sofievka group.

The communities of the Globular Amphora culture migrated from the north-west, from eastern Poland, towards the Danube Delta and as far as the Dnieper in the east, while the multicultural population from the areas around the mouth of the Danube moved in the opposite direction, carrying with them cultural elements from Thrace, or even from Anatolia. Some of them returned to the starting point (to south-eastern Poland), bringing with them a new form of pottery, so-called Thuringian amphora, borrowed from the late Trypillian Usatovo group. This resulted in origins of the Złota culture, a cultural phenomenon that gave beginnings to the oldest Corded Ware culture. Inventories of both cultures contained the already mentioned Thuringian amphorae.

Graves and cemeteries with gender differentiated burial rites in Europe; A — Hamangia and Varna cultures; B — Tiszapolgar and Bodrogkeresztur cultures; C — Lublin-Volhynia culture; D — Brześć Kujawski culture. Added star symbol with approximate location of the Alexandria site. Modified image from Sławomir Kadrow (2016)

Here is a more recent assessment (2017) of the latest radiocarbon analyses of the available settlements of cultures in the area, published by Marek Novak (announced in a previous post), which gives the following data on Wyciąże-Złotniki, Lublin-Volhynia, and Wyciąże/Niedźwiedź:

This scheme unambiguously suggests both the overlapping and contiguous nature of cultural development in western Lesser Poland within the Middle Neolithic. The basic elements of this development are: 1) the Wyciąże-Złotniki group and the Lublin-Volhynian culture, until c. 3650–3550 cal BC; 2) the Funnel Beaker culture proper, which appeared c. 3750–3700c al BC, and existed until c. 3300–3250 cal BC, perhaps accompanied by the Wyciąże/Niedźwiedź materials from c. 3650–3550 cal BC; and 3) the Baden culture and the Funnel Beaker/Baden assemblages from 3100 and 3300–3100 cal BC, respectively, until 2850–2750 and 2850 cal BC, with – possibly – later Funnel Beaker culture and Wyciąże/ Niedźwiedź materials, existing until c. 3100 cal BC.

The final scheme shows that the Lublin-Volhynian culture could have coincided with the Wyciąże-Złotniki group. In view of the territorial relationship between them, relations from the point of view of material culture, primarily in the field of pottery, become particularly interesting. It is relatively easy to see clear similarities between these units. However, the most evident similarities apply only to some categories of ceramics, including, for example, vessels with Scheibenhenkel handles. What is more, in the period between the late 38th and early 36th centuries BC, the early Funnel Beaker and possibly early Baden influences are superimposed on this Lublin-Volhynian/Wyciąże-Złotniki ‘mix’.

[About Corded Ware: The] development of this unit in central Europe, including western Lesser Poland, [] usually point to c. 2800 cal BC (Włodarczak 2006a). (…) the calibration curve makes it possible to alternatively refer several dates earlier than c. 3100 to c. 2850–2800 cal BC.


There is no direct archaeological link of Lublin-Volhynia-related groups with Corded Ware, beyond the fact that they shared homeland and Central European (‘steppe-related’) traits, as found in the Złota culture. But there is no direct link of Yamna with Corded Ware, either, whether in terms of culture or population.

So, given the evident link of R1a-Z93 and steppe ancestry with the forest steppe ca. 4000 BC, the surrounding North Pontic areas in contact along the Dniester, Dnieper, Bug, and Prut are the best candidates for the appearance of R1a-Z283: steppe cultures to the south and south-west; sub-Neolithic (Comb Ware) groups to the north in the forest zone; and Eneolithic groups to the west and north-west.

Seeing how ‘ancestral components’ and PCA cluster can change within a few generations, the question of the spread of R1a-Z645 subclades is still not settled by a single sample in Alexandria. However, based on the explosive expansions we are seeing from small territories, it would not be surprising to find R1a-Z93 and R1a-Z283 side by side in the same small area within the forest steppe.

NOTE. An archaeological link may not mean anything relevant in genetics, especially – as in this case – when no clear migration event has been traced to date. We have seen exactly that with Kristiansen’s proposal of a long-term genetic admixture of Yamna with Trypillia and GAC to form Corded Ware, which didn’t happen. The cultural and ideological connection of CWC peoples with Lublin-Volhynian tradition may be similar to the already known connection with GAC, and not mean anything in genetic finds; at least in terms of Y-DNA haplogroup.

We believed in the 2000s that Corded Ware represented the expansion of Late Proto-Indo-European, because the modern map of haplogroup R1a showed a distribution similar to how we thought the European and Indo-Iranian languages could have expanded. This has been proven wrong, and that’s what ancient DNA is for; not to confirm the own ideas or models, or to support modern ideologies.

It is impossible to know if R1a-Z645 comes from the steppe, forest steppe, or forest zone, until more samples are published. I don’t think there will be any big surprise, no matter where it is eventually found. By now, adding linguistic reconstruction to archaeological traits, and to the genetic data from Yamna and Corded Ware settlers, the only clear pattern is that patrilineal clans expanded, during the Final Eneolithic / Chalcolithic:

  • Late Proto-Indo-European with Yamna and R1b-L23 subclades, given the known genomic data from Khvalynsk, Yamna, Afanasevo, Bell Beaker, Catacomb, and Poltavka—Sintashta/Potapovka.
  • Uralic with Corded Ware and R1a-Z645 subclades, given the known genomic data from Fennoscandia and the Forest Zone.

Everything else is just wishful thinking at this moment.


The origin of social complexity in the development of the Sintashta culture


Very interesting PhD thesis by Igor Chechushkov, Bronze Age human communities in the Southern Urals steppe: Sintashta-Petrovka social and subsistence organization (2018).


Why and how exactly social complexity develops through time from small-scale groups to the level of large and complex institutions is an essential social science question. Through studying the Late Bronze Age Sintashta-Petrovka chiefdoms of the southern Urals (cal. 2050–1750 BC), this research aims to contribute to an understanding of variation in the organization of local communities in chiefdoms. It set out to document a segment of the Sintashta-Petrovka population not previously recognized in the archaeological record and learn about how this segment of the population related to the rest of the society. The Sintashta-Petrovka development provides a comparative case study of a pastoral society divided into sedentary and mobile segments.

Subsurface testing on the peripheries of three Sintashta-Petrovka communities suggests that a group of mobile herders lived outside the walls of the nucleated villages on a seasonal basis. During the summer, this group moved away from the village to pasture livestock farther off in the valley, and during the winter returned to shelter adjacent to the settlement. This finding illuminates the functioning of the year-round settlements as centers of production during the summer so as to provide for herd maintenance and breeding and winter shelter against harsh environmental conditions.

The question of why individuals chose in this context to form mutually dependent relationships with other families and thus give up some of their independence can be answered with a combination of two necessities: to remain a community in a newly settled ecological niche and to protect animals from environmental risk and theft. Those who were skillful at managing communal construction of walled villages and protecting people from military threats became the most prominent members of the society. These people formed the core of the chiefdoms but were not able to accumulate much wealth and other possessions. Instead, they acquired high social prestige that could even be transferred to their children. However, this set of relationships did not last longer than 300 years. Once occupation of the region was well established the need for functions served by elites disappeared, and centralized chiefly communities disintegrated into smaller unfortified villages.

Research area: map of the Sintashta-Petrovka archaeological sites. Settlements: 101 – Stepnoye; 102 – Shibaeyvo 1; 103 – Chernorechye 3; 104 – Bakhta; 105 – Paris; 106 – Isiney; 107 – Kuisak; 108 – Ust’ye; 109 – Rodniki; 110 – Konoplyanka; 111 – Zhurumbay; 112 – Arkaim; 113 – Sintashta; 114 – Sintashta 2; 115 – Kamennyi Ambar; 116 – Alandskoye; 117 – Chekatay; 118 – Selek; 119 – Sarym- Sakly; 120 – Kamysty; 121 – Kizilskoye; 122 – Bersuat; 123 – Andreyevskoe; 124 – Ulak; 125 – Streletskoye; 126 – Zarechnoye 4; 127 – Kamennyi Brod. Cemeteries: 201 – Ozernoye 1; 202 – Krivoe Ozero; 203 – Stepnoye M; 204 – Kamennyi Ambar-5; 205 – Stepnoye 1; 206 – Tsarev Kurgan; 207 – Ubagan 2; 208 – Solntse 2; 209 – Bolshekaraganskyi; 210 – Aleksandrovsky 4; 211 – Sintashta; 212 – Solonchanka 1a; 213 – Knyazhenskyi; 214 – Bestamak; 215 – Ishkinovka 1; 216 – Ishkinovka 2; 217 – Novo–Kumakskyi; 218 – Zhaman–Kargala 1; 219 – Tanabergen 2; 220 – Novo-Petrovka; 221 – Semiozernoye 2; 222 – Khalvayi 3

Some interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

The quintessential archaeological evidence of Sintashta-Petrovka communities takes the form of highly nucleated and fortified settlements paired with easily-recognized kurgan (burial mound) cemeteries. This pattern spread across Northern Central Eurasia in a relatively short period of about 300 years (cal. 2050–1750 BC), and the period consists of two chronological phases (Hanks et al. 2007). The earlier Sintashta phase (cal. 2050–1850 BC) is distinguished from the later Petrovka phase (cal. 1850–1750 BC) by some differences in ceramic styles and some techniques of bronze metallurgy (Degtyareva et al. 2001; Vinogradov 2013). Bronze Age subsistence patterns apparently relied on a wide variety of resources, among which meat and milk production played a major role (…). The most outstanding graves are individual male burials accompanied by weaponry (projectile weapons and chariots), the insignia of power (stone mace heads), craft tools, and a specific set of sacrificed animals (horses, cows, and dogs). (…) there were at least two adults buried with chariots and one with sacrificed horses (Epimakhov 1996b). Chariots – the most famous and spectacular material component of Sintashta-Petrovka society – are known exclusively from burial contexts. Two-wheeled vehicles represent complex technology, incorporating some crucial innovations and the investment of substantial resources. Highly developed craft and military skills were required for their production and use. Burials with chariots probably represent military elites who used them (Anthony 2009; Chechushkov 2011; Frachetti 2012:17) and played especially important social roles in Sintashta-Petrovka societies. This pattern strongly suggests that military leadership extended into the realm of ideology and general social prestige (Earle 2011:32–33).

The following sequence of archaeological cultures – based on the sample of radiocarbon dates (Epimakhov 2007a; 2010a), – is adopted: (1) the Sintashta-Petrovka phase 1 dated to cal. 2050–1750 BC and (2) the Srubnaya-Alakul’ phase 2 dated to cal. 1750–1350 BC.

(…) control of craft might have provided a source of power for elites in the fortified settlements (Steponaitis 1991). Some bronze tools, such as chisels, adzes, and handsaws seem more abundantly represented at some fortified settlements than at others, raising the possibility of a stronger focus on different craft products and some degree of exchange and interdependence between fortified settlements. (…) Zdanovich (1995:35) estimates 2500 people within the walls at Arkaim. He bases his conclusion an average house size of 140 m2 and the idea that Arkaim households consisted of an extended family of several generations, similar to Iroquois longhouse inhabitants. He also suggests that the entire population did not live in the “town” all the time, but moved around. The fully permanent residents were shamans, warriors, and craftsmen, i.e., elites and attached specialists.

Summarizing, excavated households represent very strongly similar architectural patterns, similar levels of wealth and prestige, little productive differentiation, and no evidence of elites amassing wealth through control of craft or subsistence production or any other mechanism (Earle 1987). These observations sharply contradict the burial record, where strong social differentiation is visible. The description above recalls the Regional Classic period elites of the Alto Magdalena whose standard of living differed little if at all from anyone else’s. Their elaborate tombs and sculptures suggest supernatural powers and ritual roles were much more important bases of their social prominence than economic control or accumulation of wealth (Drennan 1995:96–97). On the other hand, craft activities (especially metal production) are highly obvious in the Sintashta-Petrovka settlements. Defensive functions could also have played some role for the entire population. This benefit might attract people in an unstable or wild environment to spend much of their time in or near such settlements (Earle 2011:32–33). Since the construction of ditches and outer walls, as well as dwellings with shared walls, requires planning and organization, purposeful collective effort must have been a key feature of Sintashta-Petrovka communities (Vinogradov 2013; Zdanovich 1995). Sintashta-Petrovka communities thus evidence substantial investment of effort in non-subsistence activities, potentially resulting in a subsistence deficit in an economy with a heavy emphasis on herding. Altogether, this makes it plausible to think of the known Sintashta-Petrovka communities as special places where elites for whom military activities were important resided, and where metal production and possibly other crafts were carried out. It remains unclear just how a subsistence economy relying heavily on herding was managed from these substantial sedentary communities. Moving herds around the landscape seasonally is generally thought to be a part of subsistence strategy in Inner Eurasia (Frachetti 2008; Bachura 2013). In this area migration to exploit seasonal pastures is the best strategy for maintaining a regular supply of food for livestock due to shortages of capital or of labor pool to produce, harvest, and store fodder (Dyson-Hudson and Dyson-Hudson 1980:17). The recent stable isotope studies support this notion showing high likelihood that during the Bronze Age livestock was raised locally (Kiseleva et al. 2017).

The above raises the possibility that the residential remains that have been excavated within the fortifications of Sintashta-Petrovka communities represent only a portion of the population (Hanks and Doonan 2009, Johnson and Hanks 2012). It could be (along with the general lines suggested by D. Zdanovich [1997]) that the archaeological remains of the ordinary people who made up the majority of the population, built the impressive fortifications and stoked the subsistence economy have gone largely undetected. In global comparative perspective, many societies with the features known for Sintashta-Petrovka organization consisted of elite central-place settlements and hinterland populations. In such a scenario, the “missing” portion of the Sintashta population would reside in smaller unfortified settlements scattered around in the vicinity of the fortified ones.


In terms of wealth and productive differentiation, the inside assemblage of Kamennyi Ambar demonstrates a higher degree of richness and diversity in its material assemblage, leading to the conclusion that the outside materials may represent a semi-mobile group of people who used significantly less durable materials and accumulated less possessions. As for the diversity within the inside artifact assemblage, some households at Kamennyi Ambar demonstrate more diverse artifact assemblages than others, as well as bigger sizes, that could be related to differences in productive activities and/or wealth differentiation between families. A focus on specific objects of ceramic production in House 1 suggests some degree of productive specialization, while the elite goods in House 5 clearly point out the presence of elite members of the society.

There are two possible social scenarios that explain the settlement situation during the Sintashta-Petrovka phase. The first scenario considers all three communities as simultaneous and the second scenario suggests seeing the three sites as the same community that moved around the landscape during the Late Bronze Age in order to keep the pasture grounds from degradation.

Since no remains of permanent structures were found and any people living outside the walls must have stayed in temporary shelters. If this was the case, then the outside part of the population consisted of a semi-mobile group of people who moved to live near the fortified settlement during the winter. The pattern of animal slaughtering supports this conclusion. Animal teeth found near Kamennyi Ambar and Konoplyanka demonstrate a tendency for animal butchering during the fall, throughout the winter and spring, with less evidence of summer meat consumption. Moreover, since the Bronze Age subsistence strategy relied heavily on pastoralism, herds had to be grazed during the summer and kept safe during the winter. This strongly suggests that the part of the population responsible for management of animals spent their time in the summer pastures with the livestock. During the winter the animals had to be kept in the warm and safe environment of the walled settlements (as suggested by the highest level of phosphorus on the house floors) while the herders stayed in portable shelters in close to the walls.

(…) the outsiders used a less diverse set of tools, as well as less durable materials (for example, wooden instead of metal) in their everyday life and did not accumulate much in the way of archaeologically visible possessions. On the other hand, a few stone and lithic artifacts demonstrate that craft activities were carried out using cheap and abundant raw materials. The artefact assemblages also point out that the people inside accumulated wealth in the form of material belongings and luxury goods, especially, things like metal artifacts and symbolic or military-related stone artifacts, while people outside did not do that. However, the presence of semi-precious stones could signify some kind of wealth accumulation by the segment of population outside the walls. Since there are limits to our ability to assess social relationships from material remains, it is difficult to say if the people who lived outside the walls were oppressed or less respected. Their possible concentration on herding-related activities and livestock keeping might suggest less prestigious social status. The most prominent members of the society were, nonetheless, buried with the attributes of warriors or craft specialists, not those of shepherds, suggesting that those involved in livestock management had less social prestige.

Furthermore, Kuzmina (1994:72) cites linguistic studies demonstrating that the Sanskrit word for a permanent village earlier meant a circle of mobile wagon homes, situated together for defensive purposes for an overnight camp (Kuzmina 1994:72).

The likely population of semi-mobile herders represented some 30%–60% of the entire local community, while the other of 40%–70% were inhabitants of the walled settlement. The almost completely excavated kurgan cemetery of Kamennyi Ambar-5 (only two kurgans remain unstudied) yielded about 100 individuals, or about 2%–5% of the total of 4,896±1,960 individuals in four generations who lived at the nearby settlement for 100 years. In other words, no more than 10% of the population was entitled to be buried under the kurgan mound and this proportion can be taken as an estimate of those with elevated social status. Perhaps, these elites were kin, since analysis of the burial patterns suggests sex/age rather than wealth/prestige differentiation between buried individuals within this elite group (Epimakhov and Berseneva 2011; Ventresca Miller 2013). The remaining non-elite members of the permanently resident community, then, represented some 30%–60% of the complete local community, but did not show evidence of standards of living particularly lower than the elites eventually interred in the kurgan.

(…) The buried population in the Sintashta Cemetery is about 80 individuals or only about 2%–3% of the total estimated population. However, these few individuals were buried with extremely rich offerings, like complete chariots, decorations made of precious metals or sacrifices of six horses (equal to about 900 kg of meat), etc. With such a low proportion of the population assigned such high prestige, the Sintashta local community can easily be labeled a local chiefdom. In Pitman and Doonan’s view (2018) the social structure of the chifedom consisted of a chief and his kin at the highest level; warriors, religious specialists, and craftsmen in the middle; and the pastoral community at the bottom level.


In the Bronze Age, the people who comprised the majority of the permanent population were involved in craft activities, including extraction of copper ores, metallurgy, bone, leather, and woodwork. The most important and labor-intensive part of the economy, however, was haymaking. The evidence of hay found in the cultural layer near Kamennyi Ambar supports the idea that animals were fed during the winter. Nowadays, hay cutting is typically done in July-August, the period of most intensive grazing for animals. Thus, the part of the collective that remained in the settlement had to provide the labor force for haymaking.

In the wintertime, the herders returned to the settlements with the herds, and animals were kept inside the walls––a practice which is known archaeologically (Zakh 1995) and ethnographically (Shahack-Gross et al. 2004)––while herders stayed outside in their tents.

In sum, the Sintashta-Petrovka chiefdoms demonstrate a three-part social order. In Kuzmina’s (1994) view, this is similar to the Varna system of ancient India, that consisted of priests (Sansk. Brahmanis), rulers and warriors (Sansk. Kshatriyas), free producers (Sansk. Vaishyas) and laborers and service providers (Sansk. Shudras). In the Sintashta-Petrovka chiefdom, the elite 2%–5% of the population would have consisted of priests and warriors; 48%–55% would have been dependent producers; and 50%–60% would have been herders of lower social rank.

The map of the Bronze Age sites in the Karagaily-Ayat Valley Sites of Phase 1: 101 – Konoplyanka; 102 – Zhurumbay; 103 – Kamennyi Ambar; 104 – Kamennyi Ambar-5 Sites of Phase 2: 201 – Konoplyanka 1; 202 – Varshavskoye-1; 203 – Zhurumbay-1; 204 – Varshavskoye-3; 205 – Varshavskoye-5; 206 – Varshavskoye-9; 207 – Kamennyi Ambar-8; 208 – Kamennyi Ambar; 209 – Elizavetpolskoye-3; 210 – Elizavetpolskoye-2; 211 – Karagayli-26; 212 – Elizavetpolskoye-7; 213 – Elizavetpolskoye- 9; 214 – Yuzhno-Stepnoyi (1); 215 – Yuzhno-Stepnoyi (2)


In the case of the Sintashta-Petrovka chiefdoms, the questions of why and how exactly social complexity developed through time and why individuals choose to integrate and give up their independence can be answered as some combination of two necessities: to persist as a larger community in the ecological niche of the newly settled region, and to protect herds from theft.

There is general agreement among researchers that the Sintashta phenomenon had no local roots and originated with a large-scale migration of pastoral communities from Eastern Europe to the marginal area of the Southern Urals. This process forced families to stay together and fueled the necessity in the walled villages for ensuring the reproduction of herds in the extreme climatic conditions of the southern Urals that are colder and dryer than the eastern Black Sea region from which the Sintashta populations are thought to have migrated (Kuzmina 1994, 2007; Anthony 2007; Vinogradov 2011, etc.). At the same time, the herds needed protection from animal and human predators. Probably, the risk of losing animals was a threat to survival that created tensions between neighboring communities, and the Neolithic hunter-gatherers who had populated the Urals before the arrival of Sintashta people could have hunted the domestic animals. Apparently, those who were talented in managing the construction of closely-packed villages surrounded by ditches and walls to protect people and livestock from threats from neighbors, and who otherwise served the community in the newly colonized zone became the most prominent members of society. Theses people formed the core of the Sintashta-Petrovka chiefdom but were not able to accumulate much personal wealth in the form of material possessions. Instead, they acquired high social prestige that could even be transferred to their children (since up to 65% of the buried elite population consists of infants [Razhev and Epimakhov 2005). In this sense, the Sintashta-Petrovka elites were simmilar to their counterparts in the Alto Magdalena of Colombia (Drennan 1995; Gonzalez Fernandez 2007; Drennan and Peterson 2008).

However, this situation did not last longer than 300 years, since after the initial phase of colonization of the Southern Urals was over, the need for social services provided by an elite disappeared and centralized chiefly communities disintegrated into the smaller unfortified villages of the Srubnaya-Alakul’ period.

As I have said many times already (see e.g. here) the outsider pastoralists, forming originally the vast majority of the population, were most likely Pre-Proto-Indo-Iranian speakers of haplogroup R1b-Z2103, and their elite groups (whose inheritance system was based on kinship) probably incorporated gradually Uralic-speaking families of haplogroup R1a-Z93, whose relative importance increased gradually, and then eventually expanded massively with the migrations of Andronovo and Srubna, creating a second Y-chromosome bottleneck that favoured again Z93 subclades. The adaptation of Pre-Proto-Indo-Iranian to the Uralic pronunciation, and the adoption of PII vocabulary in neighbouring Proto-Finno-Ugric bear witness to this process.


The Yampil Barrow complex and the Yamna connection with forest-steppe cultures


Researchers involved in the investigation of the Yampil Barrow Complex are taking the opportunity of their latest genetic paper to publish and upload more papers in

NOTE. These are from the free volume 22 of Baltic-Pontic Studies, Podolia “Barrow Culture” Communities: 4th/3rd-2nd Mill. BC. The Yampil Barrow Complex: Interdisciplinary Studies, whose website gives a warning depending on your browser (because of the lack of secure connection). Here is a link to the whole PDF.

Here are some of them, with interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

1. Kurgan rites in the Eneolithic and Early Bronze age Podolia in light of materials from the funerary ceremonial centre at Yampil, by Piotr Włodarczak (2017).

The particular interest in this group stemmed from its specific location within the “Yamnaya cultural-historical entity”: its exposure to Central European Corded ware culture (further as CWC) on the one hand, and discernible contact with communities representing the Globular Amphorae culture (GAC), expanding to the south-east, on the other [e.g. Szmyt 1999; 2000]. The location on the fringes of the north-western variant of the Yamnaya culture (YC) [acc. to Merpert 1974; cf Rassamakin 2013a; 2013b; Rassamakin, Nikolova 2008] opened up an interesting perspective for tracing the transfer of Central European cultural patterns to the North Pontic area, and for determining the specificity of the cultural model of steppe communities, which due to their geographic location seemed somehow predestined for westward expansion.

locations of Eneolithic and Early bronze age kurgan cemeteries in Podolia 1-7 – yampil cluster (1 – dobrianka, 2 – Klembivka, 3 – Pidlisivka, 4 – Porohy, 5 – Pysarivka, 6 – Prydnistryanske, 7 – Severynivka), 8-11 – Kamienka cluster (8 – hrustovaia, 9 – Kuzmin, 10 – Ocniţa, 11 – Podoima), 12 – mocra, 13 – Tymkove

Podolia kurgans originate from various stages of the Eneolithic and Early bronze ages, and this chronological diversity is reflected in differences in construction of mounds and central graves for which kurgans were originally built (being burials of the “kurgans’ founders”). These oldest burials link with various Eneolithic and YC communities, and the taxonomic attribution of some of the phenomena discussed here poses difficulties. This stems from the nature of the finds, which are sometimes only slightly distinctive and often retrieved from contexts difficult to interpret (e.g. from kurgans damaged to a significant degree). Another reason for the high discordance and ambiguity of opinions lies in the nature of the problem itself, since taxonomic definitions can be no more than proxies for cultural processes which are both fluid and multi-directional. This is particularly evident for phenomena associated with the Eneolithic and the very beginnings of the Bronze Age in steppe and forest-steppe areas [e.g. Rassamakin 2013; Manzura 2016], while later stages (the classic and late YC) are marked by much more regularity in terms of funeral rituals. Funerary behaviours displayed by Eneolithic steppe groups were the outcome of intercultural relationships and often combined elements borrowed from different milieus [e.g. Rassamakin 2008: 215, 216]. One consequence of this is the multitude of approaches to the description of Eneolithic phenomena proposed in the literature, with the controversies the situation creates. This is also true for the Podolia kurgans discussed here, where chronology is relatively easy to interpret while taxonomical attributions are much more difficult. A good example in this context is a recently published complex at Prydnistryanske, which has been linked either with the late Trypilia group of Gordinești [Klochko et al 2015d] or with the Eneolithic steppe formation known as Zhivotilovka-Volchansk [Manzura 2016], or recently with the Bursuceni group [Demcenko 2016].

A distinct feature of Podolia kurgans having YC burials is the multi-phase nature of their mounds, a feature recorded throughout the North Pontic area. It is particularly evident in the cases of sequences of burials (typically two burials) placed in the central parts of kurgans and connected with separate stages of the mound’s construction. In this context, the temporal and cultural relationship between the older and younger burial becomes a very interesting issue. Younger burials typically revealed traits characteristic of the YC complex, while older ones were often different and distinguished by a different shape of the grave pit and sometimes a different arrangement and orientation of the body as well. In the most evident cases, older pits held a body in the extended position, reminiscent of the Postmariupol/ Kvityana tradition (…). In such cases, the older grave often stands out with a funerary tradition diverging from model YC behaviours, in terms of orientation, body position, and constructional features.

Location of Yampil and Kamienka ceremonial centres, and barrows of the Yamnaya culture, Corded Ware culture, and Late Eneolithic groups of the Podolia Plateau and adjacent areas. Legend. 1 – barrows and barrow groups of the Yamnaya culture; 2 – barrows and barrow groups of the Corded Ware culture; 3 – Eneolithic barrows; 4 – barrows of undetermined cultural attribution, dated to the 3rd millennium BC [after Włodarczak 2014b, revised]

Kvitjana and Trypillia

The Pre-Yamnaya (Eneolithic) phase came to be distinguished in kurgan cemeteries from the Podolie region after the discovery of burials in extended position (i.e. of the Kvityana/Postmariupol type) at Ocniţa (Fig 10: 2, 3) [kurgans 6 and 7; Manzura et al 1992] and Tymkove (Fig 10: 1) [Subbotin et al 2000, 84, ris 3: 4]. In all these three cases the burials marked the oldest phase of mound construction, and later YC burials were dug into the central part of the kurgan, which entailed the remodelling and considerable enlargement of the mound. Both the chronological and taxonomic positions of extended burials in the North Pontic area are subjects of debate [e.g. Manzura 2010; Rassamakin 2013; Ivanova 2015, 280-282] (…)

The chronological position of graves with burials in extended position can be narrowed down thanks to stratigraphic observations made in kurgans at Bursuceni, between the Dniester and Prut rivers [Yarovoy 1978]. Graves from this site were younger than the burials representing the Zhivotilovka-Volchansk tradition and older than those linked with the early phase of YC based on a relatively compact series of radiocarbon dates obtained for graves of the Zhivotilovka-Volchansk group, the chronology of burials in extended position can be determined as the very close of the 4th – beginning of the 3rd millennia BC (most likely around 3100-2800 BC).

Early and late Yamna

A model ceremonial-funerary complex created by a YC community is a group of kurgans in Pysarivka village [harat et al 2014: 104-165]. Nine mounds have been explored there, of which eight (1, 3-9) yielded central burials of YC sharing a number of similar features (Fig 13). The deceased were placed in regular, rectangular pits having vertical walls Vykids (mounds of soil extracted while digging grave pits) formed regular narrow walls surrounding each grave, and seem to have been integral elements of sepulchral architecture. Chambers were covered with 5-7 timbers/planks arranged parallel to the grave’s longer axis. Another characteristic element was that of wooden stakes driven symmetrically into the bottom along grave chamber edges, recorded in four cases. The deceased were laid on their backs, in a contracted position with the knees up. The head was as a rule turned to W, with possible deflections towards NW or SW Skeletons bore traces of painting with ochre.

Prydnistryanske, Yampil region reconstruction of stages of grave IV/4 construction by M. Podsiadło

The role of south-eastern connections at the early stage of YC development can also be seen in grave IV/4 at Prydnistryanske. This is indicated by a combined (wood and stone) roof construction involving stela-like slabs, and by the skull of the deceased characteristically painted with red pigment. The absolute date obtained for grave IV/4 (ca 3100-3000 bC) suggests its early provenance [Goslar et al 2015]. The grave was most likely connected with the oldest stage of enlargement of the Eneolithic barrow [Klochko et al 2015].

The middle phase of YC is quite clearly evident in Podolia kurgans, it is marked by burials dug into the existing mounds. These are either single burials inserted into different parts of the mounds, or groups of graves forming arches around a central part. Graves with steps leading to the burial chamber are typical of that stage, and they were wider than those in the centres of kurgans. Chambers were typically roofed with planks or timbers placed perpendicularly to the grave’s longer axis burials on one side and burials on the back but leaning to either side become more numerous, and upper limbs were most often placed in A, G, H, or I arrangements ceramic vessels become more common in graves, including forms indicative of contacts with GAC and CWC milieus.

2. The previously announced paper on a specific burial showing postmortem marks: Ritual position and “tattooing” techniques in the funeral practices of the “Barrow cultures” of the Pontic-Caspian steppe/forest-steppe area Porohy 3A, Yampil region, Vinnytsia Oblast: Specialist analysis research perspectives, by Żurkiewicz et al. (2018):

Based on the anatomical properties of the structure of a human body, the histological structure of the skin and location of the dye used for tattooing, having conducted an analysis of postmortem changes occurring within the skin after death, and having taken into consideration the continuous and regular nature of the pattern on the ulnae of the individual from grave no. 10, an interdisciplinary team of researchers has concluded that there is no possibility of a transfer of tattoo dye from the skin onto the surface of an individual’s bone.

The analysis of two ulnae documented in this article indicates that the patterns were made using tree tar, postmortem and directly onto the skeletonised human remains. The placement of the individual’s ulnae in grave no. 10 (Fig. 10), and the location of patterns on the upper skin surface, that is, on surfaces accessible without changing the arrangement of the body, may suggest that the patterns were created on the skeletonised remains without the need to change their placement in the pit (= in situ).

The present conclusions ought to see the beginning of a wider research programme focused on the analysis of the techniques used to create decorations on bones in “kurgan cultures” communities in the context of the Pontic-Caspian Region.

Porohy, Yampil Region, barrow 3A, feature 10. Macro- and microscopic examination results: 1 – right ulna with visible decorations and close-up of the decoration; 2 – left ulna with visible decorations and close-up of the decoration. Photo by D. Lorkiewicz-Muszyńska

3. Builders and users of ritual centres, Yampil barrow complex: studies of diett based on stable carbon nitrogen isotope composition, by Goslar et al. (2017).

Foxtail millet caryopses are used to make primarily flour, groats and pancakes [lityńska-zając, wasylikowa 2005: 109]. Grains and flour are easily digestible and as such, they are recommended to infants and the elderly. Grains are also fed to fowl and poultry in Asia, foxtail millet is used to make beer and wine, while in China it is also used for medicinal purposes [Hanelt 2001 (Ed )]. Various dishes and beverages made from broomcorn and foxtail millet caryopses in Eurasia are listed by Sakamoto [1987a]. Detailed ethnobotanical studies of the cultivation, crop processing and food preparation in the Iberian Peninsula were presented by Moreno-Larrazabal et al.[2015] .

The geographical area under discussion can be related to historical and ethnographic data indicating the use of grits and groats in the diet. They had been known in the menus of European societies since the ‘pre-agrarian’ times. The isotope finding of millet domination in the diet of middle Dniester Yampil Barrow Complex, complemented by bioarchaeological data from the upper steppe Dniester area (from the similarly ‘early-barrow’ Usatovo group/culture with strongly marked ‘eastern’ civilization influences), makes it reasonable to consider the possibility that already in the prologue of late Eneolithic-Early bronze barrow culture (3300- 2800 BC) development there was a clear dividing line of millet groats use – or millet presence – that is, so-called yagla groats (yagla, yagly = millet in Old Slavic languages).

Composition of stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes in bone collagen from the Yampil Barrow Complex against the ranges of isotopic composition expected for various diet components [after Gerling 2015: Fig 6 16] The meaning of colours and symbols concerning the Yampil Barrow Complex is the same as in Fig 3 For the sake of comparison, the isotopic composition in human >bones from two sites on the dnieper (ca 5200-5000 bC) is given, in which the share of freshwater fish in the diet was confirmed by the measurements of the reservoir effect [lillie et al. 2009]


On the origin of haplogroup R1b-L51 in late Repin / early Yamna settlers


A recent comment on the hypothetical Central European origin of PIE helped me remember that, when news appeared that R1b-L51 had been found in Khvalynsk ca. 4250-4000 BC, I began to think about alternative scenarios for the expansion of this haplogroup, with one of them including Central Europe.

Because, if YFull‘s (and Iain McDonald‘s) estimation of the split of R1b-L23 in L51 and Z2103 (ca. 4100 BC, TMRCA ca. 3700 BC) was wrong, by as much as the R1a-Z645 estimates proved wrong, and both subclades were older than expected, then maybe R1b-L51 was not part of the Yamna expansion, but rather part of an earlier expansion with Suvorovo-Novodanilovka into central Europe.

That is, R1b-L51 and R1b-Z2103 would have expanded wih Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka migrants, and they would have either disappeared among local populations, or settled and expanded with successful lineages in certain regions. I think this may give rise to two potential models.

A hidden group in the European east-central steppes?

Here is what Heyd (2011), for example, has to say about the effect of the Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka expansion in the 4th millennium BC, with the first Kurgan wave that shuttered the social, economic, and cultural foundations of south-eastern Europe (before the expansion of west Yamna migrants in the region):

Proto-Anatolian migrations with Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka expansion, including ADMIXTURE data from Wang et al. (2018).

As the Boleraz and Baden tumuli cases in Serbia and Hungary demonstrate, there are earlier, 4th millennium cal. B.C. round tumuli in the Carpathian basin. There are also earlier north-Pontic steppe populations who infiltrated similar environments west of the Black Sea prior to the rise of the Yamnaya culture. This situation can be traced back to the 2nd half of the 5th millennium cal. B.C. to a group of distinct burials, zoomorphic maceheads, long flint blades, triangular flint points, etc., summarized under the term Suvurovo-Novodanilovka (Govedarica 2004; Rassamakin 2004; Anthony 2007; Heyd forthcoming 2011). They also erected round personalized tumuli, though smaller in size and height, above inhumations of single individuals. Suvorovo and Casimcea are the key examples in the lower Danube region of Romania. In northeast Bulgaria, the primary grave of Polska Kosovo (ochre-stained supine extended body position: information communicated by S. Alexandrov) can also be seen as such, as should the Targovishte-“Gonova mogila” primary grave 1 in the Thracian plain with a burial arranged in a supine position with flexed legs, southeast-northwest orientated, and strewed with ochre (Kanchev 1991 , p. 56- 57; Ivanova Gaydarska 2007). In addition to the many copper and shell beads, the 17.4cm long obsidian blade is exceptional, which links this grave to the Csongrád-“Kettoshalom” grave in the south Hungarian plain (Ecsedy 1979). It also yielded an obsidian blade ( 13.2cm long) and copper, shell and limestone beads.

The Southeast European distribution of graves of the Suvorovo-Novodanilovka group and such unequipped ones mentioned in the text which can be attributed by burial custom and stratigraphic position in the barrow, plus zoomorphic and abstract animal head sceptres as well as specific maceheads with knobs as from Decea Maresului (mid-5th millennium until around 4000 BC). Heyd (2016).

However, no traces of a tumulus have been recorded above the Kettoshalom tomb. Conventionally, it is dated to the Bodrogkeresztur-period in east Hungary, shortly after 4000 cal. B.C., which would correspond very well with the suggested Cernavodă I (or its less known cultural equivalent in the Thracian plain) attribution for the “Gonova mogila” grave, a cultural background to which the Csongrád grave should have also belonged. Bodrogkeresztur and Cernavodă I periods are not the only examples of 4th millennium cal. B.C. tumuli and burials displaying this steppe connection. Indeed we can find this early steppe impact throughout the 4th millennium cal. B.C. These include adscriptions to the Horodiștea II (Corlateni-Dealul Stadole, grave I: Burtanescu l 998, p. 37; Holbocai, grave 34: Coma 1998, p. 16); to Gordinești-Cernavodă 11 (Liești-Movila Arbănașu, grave 22: Brudiu 2000); to Gorodsk-Usatovo (Corlăteni Dealul Cetăţii, grave I: Comșa 1998, p. 17- 18, in Romania; Durankulak, grave 982: Vajsov 2002, in Bulgaria); and to Cernavodă III(Golyama Detelina, tum. 4: Leshtakov, Borisov 1995), and early (end of 4th millennium cal. B.C.) Ezero in Ovchartsi, primary grave (Kalchev 1994, p. 134-138) and Golyama Detelina, tum. 2 (Kanchev 1991) in Bulgaria. Also the Boleráz and Baden tumuli of Banjevac-Tolisavac and Mokrin in the south Carpathian basin account for this, since one should perhaps take into account primary grave 12 of the Sárrédtudavari-Orhalom tumulus in the Hungarian Alfold: a left-sided crouched juvenile ( 15- 17 y) individual in an oval, NW-SE orientated grave pit 14C dated to 3350-3100 cal. B.C. at 2 sigma (Dani, Ncpper 2006). Neither the burial custom (no ochre strewing or depositing a lump of ochre has been recorded), nor date account for its ascription to the Yamnaya!

All of these tumuli and burials demonstrate, though, that there is already a constant but perhaps low-level 4th millennium cal. B.C. steppe interaction, linking the regions of the north of the Black Sea with those of the west, and reaching deep into the Carpathian basin. This has to be acknowledged. even if these populations remain small, bounded to their steppe habitat with an economy adapted to this special environment, and are not always visible in the record. Indirect hints may help in seeing them, such as the frequent occurrence of horse bones, regarded as deriving from domesticated horses, in Hungarian Baden settlements (Bokonyi 1978; Benecke 1998), and in those of the south German Cham Culture (Matuschik 1999, p. 80-82) and the east German Bernburg Culture (Becker 1999; Benecke 1999). These occur, however, always in low numbers, perhaps not enough to maintain and regenerate a herd. Does this point us towards otherwise archaeologically hidden horsebreeders in the Carpathian basin, before the Yamnaya? In any case, I hope to make one case clear: these are by no means Yamnaya burials in the strict definition! Attribution to the Yamnaya in its strict definition applies.

Distribution of Pit-Grave burials west of the Black Sea likely dating to the 2nd half of the 4th millennium BC (triangles: side-crouched burials; filled circles: supine extended burials; open circles: suspected). In Alin Frînculeasa, Bianca Preda, Volker Heyd, Pit-Graves, Yamnaya and Kurgans along the Lower Danube.

Also, about the expansion of Yamna settlers along the steppes:

However, it should have been made clear by the distribution map of the Western Yamnaya that they were confining themselves solely to their own, well-known, steppe habitat and therefore not occupying, or pushing away and expelling, the locally settled farming societies. Also, living solely in the steppes requires another lifestyle, and quite different economic and social bases, most likely very different to the established farming societies. Although surely regarded as incoming strangers, they may therefore not have been seen as direct competitors. This argument can be further enforced when remembering that the lowlands and the steppes in the southeast of Europe had already been populated throughout the 4th millennium cal. B.C., as demonstrated above, by societies with a similar north-Pontic steppe origin and tradition, albeit in lower numbers. It is only for these groups that the Yamnaya may have become a threat, but their common origin and perhaps a similar economic/ social background with comparable lifestyles would surely have assisted to allow rapid assimilation. More important, though, is that farming societies in this region may therefore have been accustomed to dealing and interacting with different people and ethnic strangers for a long time. (…)

When assessing farming and steppe societies’ interaction from a general point of view, attitudes can diverge in three main directions:

  1. the violent one; with raids, fights, struggles, warfare, suppression and finally the superiority and exploitation of the one over the other;
  2. the peaceful one; with a continuous exchange of gifts, goods, work, information and genes in a balanced reciprocal system, leading eventually to the merging of the two societies and creation of a new identity;
  3. the neutral one; with the two societies ignoring each other for a long time.

What we see from trying to understand the record of the Yamnaya, based on their tumuli and burials, and the local and neighbouring contemporary societies, based on their settlements, hoards, and graves, is likely a mixture of all three scenarios, with the balance perhaps more towards exchange in a highly dynamic system with alterations over time. However, violence and raids cannot be ruled out; they would be difficult to see in the archaeological record; or only indirectly, such as the building of hill forts, particularly the defence-like chain of Vucedol hillforts along the south shore of the Danube on the Serbian/Croatian border zone (Tasic 1995a), and the retreat of people into them (Falkenstein 1998, p. 261-262), with other interpretations also possible. And finally, we are dealing here with very different local and neighbouring societies, as well as with more distant contemporary ones, looking, in reality, rather like a chequer board of societies and archaeological cultures (see Parzinger 1993 for the overview). These display different regional backgrounds and traditions leading to different social and settlement organizations, different economic bases and material cultures in the wide areas between Prut and Maritza rivers, and Black Sea and Tisza river. They surely found their individual way of responding to the incoming and settling Yamnaya people.

Yamnaya tumuli signalling the expansion of West Yamna from ca. 3100 BC (especially after ca. 2950 BC). Heyd (2011).

The best data we have about this potential non-Yamna origin of R1b-L51 – and thus in favour of its admixture in the Carpathian basin – lies in:

  1. The majority of R1a-Z2103 subclades found to date among Yamna samples.
  2. The presence of R1b-Z2103 in the Catacomb culture – in the Northern Caucasus and in Ukraine.
  3. The limited presence of (ancient and modern) R1b-L51 in eastern Europe and India, whose isolated finds are commonly (and simplistically) attributed to ‘late migrations’.
  4. The presence of R1b-L51 (xZ2103) in cultures related to the ‘Yamna package’, but supposedly not to Yamna settlers. So for example I7043, of haplogroup R1b-L151(xU106,xP312), ca. 2500-2200 BC from Szigetszentmiklós-Üdülősor, probably from the Bell Beaker (Csepel group), but maybe from the early Nagýrev culture.
  5. The expansion of its subclades apparently only from a single region, around the Carpathian basin, in contrast to R1b-Z2103.
  6. The already ‘diluted’ steppe admixture found in the earliest samples with respect to Yamna, which points to the appearance after the Yamna admixture with the local population.
  7. Ukrainian archaeologists (in contrast to their Russian colleagues) point to the relevance of North Pontic cultures like Kvitjana and Lower Mikhailovka in the development of Early Yamna in the west, and some eastern European researchers also believe in this similarity.
  8. If R1b-Z2103 and R1b-L51 had expanded with Suvorovo-Novodanilovka migrants to the west, and had admixed later as Hungary_LCA-LBA-like peoples with Yamna migrants during the long-term contacts with other ‘kurganized cultures’ ca. 2900-2500 BC in the Great Hungarian Plains, it could explain some peculiar linguistic traits of North-West Indo-European, and also why R1b-Z2103 appears in cultures associated with this earlier ‘steppe influence’ (i.e. not directly related to Yamna) such as Vučedol (with a R1b-Z2103 sample, see below). That could also explain the presence of R1b-L151(xP312, xU106) in similar Balkan cultures, possibly not directly related to Yamna.
Image modified from Wang et al. (2018). PCA of ancient and modern samples. Red circle in dashed line around Varna, Greece Neolithic, and (approximate position of) Smyadovo outliers, part of Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka settlers.

A hidden group among north or west Pontic Eneolithic steppe cultures?

The expansion of Khvalynsk as Novodanilovka into the North Pontic area happened through the south across the steppe, near the coast, with the forest-steppe region working as a clear natural border for this culture of likely horse-riding chieftains, whose economy was probably based on some rudimentary form of mobile pastoralism.

Although archaeologists are divided as to the origin of each individual Middle Eneolithic group near the Black Sea after the end of the Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka period, it seems more or less clear that steppe cultures like Cernavodă, Lower Mikhailovka, or Kvitjana are closer (or “more archaic”) in their steppe features, which connects them to Volga–Ural and Northern Caucasus cultures, like Northern Caucasus, Repin or Khvalynsk.

On the other hand, forest-steppe cultures like Dereivka (including Alexandria) show innovative traits and contacts with para- or sub-Neolithic cultures to the north, like Comb-Pit Ware groups, apart from corded decoration influenced by Trypillian groups to the west, especially in their later (‘Proto-Corded Ware‘) stage after ca. 3500 BC.

If Ukrainian researchers like Rassamakin are right, Early Yamna expanded not only from Repin settlers, but also from local steppe cultures adopting Repin traits to develop an Early Yamna culture, similar to how eastern (Volga–Ural groups) seem to have synchronously adopted Early Yamna without massive affluence of Repin settlements.

Furthermore, local traits develop in southern groups, like anthropomorphic stelae (shared with Kemi-Oba, direct heir of Lower Mikhailovka), and rich burials featuring wagons. These traits are seen in west Yamna settlers.

Modified from Rassamakin (1999), adding red color to Repin expansion. The system of the latest Eneolithic Pointic cultures and the sites of the Zhivotilovo-Volchanskoe type: 1) Volchanskoe; 2) Zhivotilovka; 3) Vishnevatoe; 4) Koisug.

Problems of this model include:

  1. On the North Pontic area – in contrast to the Volga–Ural region – , there was a clear “colonization” wave of Repin settlers, also supported by Ukrainian researchers, based on the number of new settlements and burials, and on the progressive retreat of Dereivka, Kvitjana, as well as (more recent) Maykop- and Trypillia-related groups from the North Pontic area ca. 3350/3300 BC. It seems unlikely that these expansionist, semi-nomadic, cattle-breeding, patrilineally-related steppe clans that were driving all native populations out of their territories suddenly decided, at some point during their spread into the North Pontic area ca. 3300-3100 BC, to join forces with some foreign male lineages from the area, and then continue their expansion to the west…
  2. Similar to the fate of R1b-P297 subclades in the Baltic after the expansion of Corded Ware migrants, previous haplogropus of the North Pontic region – such as R1a, R1b-V88, and I2 subclades basically disappeared from the ancient DNA record after the expansion of Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka, and then after the expansion of Yamna, as is clear from Yamna, Afanasevo, and Bell Beaker samples obtained to date. This, in combination with what we know about Y-chromosome bottlenecks in post-Neolithic expansions, leaves little space to think that a big enough territorial group with a majority of “native” haplogroups could survive later expansions (be it R1b-L51 or R1a-Z645).
  3. Supporting an expansion of the same male (and partly female) population, the Yamna admixture from east to west is quite homogeneous, with the only difference found in (non-significant) EEF-like proportion which becomes elevated in distant areas [apart from significant ‘southern’ contribution to certain outlier samples]. Based on the also homogeneous Y-DNA picture, the heterogeneity must come, in general, from the female exogamy practiced by expanding groups.
  4. There is a short period, spanning some centuries (approximately 3300-2700 BC), in which the North Pontic area – especially the forest-steppe territories to the west of the Dnieper, i.e. the Upper Dniester, Boh, and Prut-Siret areas – are a chaos of incoming and emigrating, expanding and shrinking groups of different cultures, such as late Trypillian groups, Maykop-related traits, TRB, GAC, (Proto-)Corded Ware, and Early Yamna settlements. No natural geographic frontier can be delimited between these groups, which probably interacted in different ways. Nevertheless, based on their cultural traits, admixture, and especially on their Y-DNA, it seems that they never incorporated foreign male lineages, beyond those they probably had during their initial expansion trends.
  5. The further expansionist waves of Early Yamna seen ca. 3100 BC, from the Danube Delta to the west, give an overall image of continuously expanding patrilineal clans of R1b-M269 subclades since the Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka migration, in different periodic steps, mostly from eastern Pontic-Caspian nuclei, usually overriding all encountered cultures and (especially male) populations, rather than showing long-term collaboration and interaction. Such interaction is seen only in exceptional cases, e.g. the long-term admixture between Abashevo and Poltavka, as seen in Proto-Indo-Iranian peoples and their language.
Image modified from Wang et al. (2018). PCA of ancient and modern samples. Arrows depicting Khvalynsk -> Yamna drift (blue), and hypothetic approximate Ukraine Eneolithic -> Yamna drift accompanying R1b-L51 (red).


We are living right now an exemplary ego-, (ethno-)nationalism-, and/or supremacy-deflating moment, for some individuals of eastern and northern European descent who believed that R1a or ‘steppe ancestry proportions’ meant something special. The same can be said about those who had interiorized some social or ethnolinguistic meaning for the origin of R1b in western Europe, N1c in north-eastern Europe, as well as Greeks, Iranians, Armenians, or Mediterranean peoples in general of ‘Near Eastern’ ancestry or haplogroups, or peoples of Near Eastern origin and/or language.

These people had linked their haplogroups or ancestry with some fantasy continuity of ‘their’ ancestral populations to ‘their’ territories or languages (or both), and all are being proven wrong.

Apart from teaching such people a lesson about what simplistic views are useful for – whether it is based on ABO or RH group, white skin, blond hair, blue eyes, lactase persistence, or on the own ancestry or Y-DNA haplogroup -, it teaches the rest of us what can happen in the near future among western Europeans. Because, until recently, most western Europeans were comfortably settled thinking that our ancestors were some remnant population from an older, Palaeolithic or Mesolithic population, who acquired Indo-European languages by way of cultural diffusion in different periods, including only minor migrations.

Judging by what we can see now among some individuals of Northern and Eastern European descent, the only thing that can worsen the air of superiority among western Europeans is when they realize (within a few years, when all these stupid battles to control the narrative fade) that not only are they the cultural ‘heirs’ of the Graeco-Roman tradition that began with the Roman Empire, but that most of them are the direct patrilineal descendants of Khvalynsk, Yamna, Bell Beaker, and European Bronze Age peoples, and thus direct descendants of Middle PIE, Late PIE, and NWIE speakers.

Steppe-related migrations ca. 3100-2600 BC with tentative linguistic identification.

The finding of R1b-L51 and R1b-Z2103 among expanding Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chieftains, with pockets of R1b-L51 remaining in steppe-like societies of the Balkans and the Carpathian Basin, would have beautifully complemented what we know about the East Yamna admixture with R1a-Z93 subclades (Uralic speakers) ca. 2600-2100 BC to form Proto-Indo-Iranian, and about the regional admixtures seen in the Balkans, e.g. in Proto-Greeks, with the prevalent J subclades of the region.

It would have meant an end to any modern culture or nation identifying themselves with the ‘true’ Late PIE and Yamna heirs, because these would be exclusively associated with the expansion of R1b-Z2103 subclades with late Repin, and later as the full-fledged Late PIE with Yamna settlers to south-east and central Europe, and to the southern Urals. The language would have had then obviously undergone different language changes in all these territories through long-lasting admixture with other populations. In that sense, it would have ended with the ideas of supremacy in western Europe before they even begin.

The most likely future

However limited the evidence, it seems that R1b-L51 expanded with Yamna, though, based on the estimates for the haplogroups involved, and on marginal hints at the variability of L23 subclades within Yamna and neighbouring populations. If R1b-L51 expanded with West Repin / Early Yamna settlers, this is why they have not yet been found among Yamna samples:

Simplified map of Repin expansions from ca. 3500/3400 BC.
  • The subclade division of Yamna settlers needs not be 50:50 for L51:Z2103, either in time or in space. I think this is the simplistic view underlying many thoughts on this matter. Many different expanding patrilineal clans of L23 subclades may have been more or less successful in different areas, and non-Z2103 may have been on the minority, or more isolated relative to Z2103-clans among expanding peoples on the steppe, especially on the east. In fact, we usually talk in terms of “Z2103 vs. L51” as if
    1. these two were the only L23 subclades; and
    2. both had split and succeeded (expanding) synchronously;

    that is, as if there had not been multiple subclades of both haplogroups, and as if there had not been different expansion waves for hundreds of years stemming from different evolving nuclei, involving each time only limited (successful) clans. Many different subclades of haplogroups L23 (xZ2103, xL51), Z2103, and L51 must have been unsuccessful during the ca. 1,500 years of late Khvalynsk and late Repin-Early Yamna expansions in which they must have participated (for approximately 60-75 generations, based on a mean 20-25 years).

  • If we want to imagine a pocket of ‘hidden’ L51 for some region of the North Pontic or Carpathian region, the same can be imagined – and much more likely – for any unsampled territory of expanding late Repin/Early Yamna settlers from the Lower Don – Lower Volga region (probably already a mixed society of L51 and Z2103 subclades since their beginning, as the early Repin culture, ca. 3800 BC), with L51 clans being probably successful to the west.
  • The Repin culture expanded only in small, mobile settlements from the Lower Don – Lower Volga to the north, east, and south, starting ca. 3500/3400 BC, in the waves that eventually gave a rather early distant offshoot in the Altai region, i.e. Afanasevo. Starting ca. 3300 BC in the archaeological record, the majority of R1b-Z2103 subclades found to date in Afanasevo also supports either
    • a mixed Repin society, with Z2103-clans predominating among eastern settlers; or
    • a Repin society marked by haplogroup L51, and thus a cultural diffusion of late Repin/Early Yamna traits among neighbouring (Khvalynsk, Samara, etc.) groups of essentially the same (early Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka) genetic stock in the Volga–Ural region.

    Both options could justify a majority of Z2103 in the Lower Volga–Ural region, with the latter being supported by the scattered archaeological remains of late Repin in the region before the synchronous emergence of Early Yamna findings in the whole Pontic-Caspian steppe.

  • Most Z2103 from Yamna samples to date are from around 3100 BC (in average) onward, and from the right bank of the Lower Don to the east, particularly from the Lower Volga–Ural area (especially the Samara region), which – based on the center of expansion of late Repin settlers – may be depicting an artificially high Z2103-distribution of the whole Yamna community.
Repin expansion into the Volga–Ural region from ca. 3500/3400 BC. Map made by me based on maps and data from Morgunova (2014, 2016). Lopatino is marked with number 64.
  • Yamna sample I0443, R1b-L23 (Y410+, L51-), ca. 3300-2700 BCE from Lopatino II, points to an intermediate subclade between L23 and L51, near one of the supposed late Repin sites (based on kurgan burials with late Repin cultural traits) in the Samara region.
  • Other Balkan cultures potentially unrelated to the Yamna expansion also show Z2103 (and not only L51) subclades, like I3499 (ca. 2884-2666 calBC), of the Vučedol culture, from Beli Manastir-Popova zemlja, which points to the infiltration of Yamna peoples in other cultures. In any case, the appearance of R1b-L23 subclades in the region happens only after the Yamna expansion ca. 3100 BC, probably through intrusions into different neighbouring regions, if these Balkan cultures are not directly derived from Yamna settlements (which is probably the case of the Csepel Bell Beaker or early Nagýrev sample, see above).
  • The diversity of haplogroups found in or around the Carpathian Basin in Late Chalcolithic / Early Bronze Age samples, including L151(xP312, xU106), P312, U106, Z2103, makes it the most likely sink of Yamna settlers, who spread thus with expanding family clans of different R1b-L23 subclades.
  • Even though some Yamna vanguard groups are known to have expanded up to Saxony-Anhalt before ca. 2700 BC, haplogroup Z2103 seems to be restricted to more eastern regions, which suggests that R1b-L51 was already successful among expanding West Yamna clans in Hungary, which gave rise only later to expanding East Bell Beakers (overwhelmingly of L151 subclades). The source of R1b-L51 and L151 expansion over Z2103 must lie therefore in the West Yamna period, and not in the Bell Beaker expansion.
Yamna migrants ca. 3300-2600. Most likely site of admixture with GAC circled in red.
  • The R1b-Z2103 found in Poltavka, Catacomb, and to the south point to a late migration displacing the western R1b-L51, only after the late Repin expansion. This is also seen in the steppe ancestry and R1b-Z2103 south of the Caucasus, in Hajji Firuz, which points to this route as a potential source of the supposed “Earliest Proto-Indo-Iranian” (the mariannu term) of the Near East. A similar replacement event happened some centuries later with expanding R1a-Z93 subclades from the east wiping out haplogroup R1b-Z2103 from the Pontic-Caspian steppe.
  • Many ancient samples from Khvalynsk, Northern Caucasus, Yamna, or later ones are reported simply as R1b-M269 or L23, without a clear subclade, so the simplistic ‘Yamna–Z2103’ picture is not real: if one takes into account that Z2103 might have been successful quite early in the eastern region, it is more likely to obtain a successful Y-SNP call of a Z2103 subclade in the Volga–Ural region than a xZ2103 one.
  • There are some modern samples of R1b-L51 in eastern Europe and Asia, whose common simplistic attribution to “late expansions” is usually not substantiated; and also ancient R1b-L51 samples might be confirmed soon for Asia.
  • ‘Western’ features described by archaeologists for West Yamna settlers, associated with Kemi Oba and southern Yamna groups in the North Pontic area – like rich burials with anthropomorphic stelae and wagons – are actually absent in burials from settlers beyond Bulgaria, which does not support their affiliation with these local steppe groups of the Black Sea. Also, a mix with local traditions is seen accross all Early Yamna groups of the Pontic-Caspian steppe, and still genetics and common cultural traits point to their homogeneization under the same patrilineal clans expanding continuously for centuries. The maintenance of local traditions (as evidenced by East Bell Beakers in Iberia related to Iberian Proto-Beakers) is often not a useful argument in genetics, especially when the female population is not replaced.
Yamna settlers in the Great Pannonian Plain, showing only kurgans of Hungary ca. 2950-2500 BC. Yamna Hungary was one of the biggest West Yamna provinces. From Hórvath et al. (2013).


This is what we know, using linguistics, archaeology, and genetics:

  • Middle Proto-Indo-European expanded with Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka after ca. 4800 BC, with the first Suvorovo settlements dated ca. 4600 BC.
  • Archaic Late Proto-Indo-European expanded with late Repin (or Volga–Ural settlers related to Khvalynsk, influenced by the Repin expansion) into Afanasevo ca. 3500/3400 BC.
  • Late Proto-Indo-European expanded with Early Yamna settlers to the west into central Europe and the Balkans ca. 3100 BC; and also to the east (as Pre-Proto-Indo-Iranian) into the southern Urals ca. 2600 BC.
  • North-West Indo-European expanded with Yamna Hungary -> East Bell Beakers, from ca. 2500 BC.
  • Proto-Indo-Iranian expanded with Sintashta, Potapovka, and later Andronovo and Srubna from ca. 2100 BC.

It seems that the subclades from Khvalynsk ca. 4250-4000 BC were wrongly reported – like those of Narasimhan et al. (2018). However, even if they are real and YFull estimates have to be revised, and even if the split had happened before the expansion of Suvorovo-Novodanilovka, the most likely origin of R1b-L51 among Bell Beakers will still be the expansion of late Repin / Early Yamna settlers, and that is what ancient DNA samples will most likely show, whatever the social or political consequences.

The only relevance of the finding of R1b-L51 in one place or another – especially if it is found to be a remnant of a Middle PIE expansion coupled with centuries of admixture and interaction in the Carpathian Basin – is the potential influence of an archaic PIE (or non-IE) layer on the development of North-West Indo-European in Yamna Hungary -> East Bell Beaker. That is, more or less like the Uralic influence related to the appearance of R1a-Z93 among Proto-Indo-Iranians, of R1a-Z284 among Pre-Germanic peoples, and of R1a-Z282 among Balto-Slavic peoples.

I think there is little that ancient DNA samples from West Yamna could add to what we know in general terms of archaeology or linguistics at this point regarding Late PIE migrations, beyond many interesting details. I am sure that those who have not attributed some random 6,000-year-old paternal ancestor any magical (ethnic or nationalist) meaning are just having fun, enjoying more and more the precise data we have now on European prehistoric populations.

As for those who believe in magical consequences of genetic studies, I don’t think there is anything for them to this quest beyond the artificially created grand-daddy issues. And, funnily enough, those who played (and play) the ‘neutrality’ card to feel superior in front of others – the “I only care about the truth”-type of lie, while secretly longing for grandpa’s ethnolinguistic continuity – are suffering the hardest fall.


Yamna female shows decoration of bones after body decomposition

Interesting press release from the Institute of Archaeology at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań:

In an open access report last year, Anthropological Description of Skeletal Material from the Dniester Barrow-cemetery Complex, Yampil Region, Vinnitsa Oblast (Ukraine), the team lead by Liudmyla Litvinova – of the Ukrainian Academy of Science – published their findings from the skeletons in different burial mounds along the border with Moldavia, ranging from Eneolithic to Iron Age burials.

Map of Yampil barrows, showing administrative borders: 1 – Klembivka barrow 1; 2 – Porohy, barrow 3A; 3 – Pidlisivka, barrow 1; 4 – Prydnistryanske, barrows 1-4; 5 – barrows; 6 – excavated barrows; 7 – Ukrainian-Moldovan frontier; 8 – Yampil Region border

In one Yamnaya burial rested a young woman aged 25-30. It was so described in the original paper:

Barrow 3A, feature 10. A very poorly-preserved skeleton with a badly damaged skull. The preserved bones include small fragments of the cranial vault and mandible and larger ones of the upper and lower limbs, pelvis fragments and vertebrae. The skeleton belonged to a female aged 25-30 years (adultus). Due to the poor state of preservation of long bones, it was not possible to reconstruct her stature. Palaeopathological lesions: LEH on both lower canines (age of the individual at the time of both defects: 4.5-5.0 years); caries on the upper left third molar.

Burial and reconstruction. Foto by Michał Podsiadło.

This is what the team has discovered since then:

While drawing and photographing the burial, our attention was drawn to regular patterns, such as parallel lines visible on both elbow bones. At first, we approached the discovery with caution – maybe the traces were left by animals, we wondered

– Says Danuta Żurkiewicz from the Institute of Archaeology, Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, who prepared an article on the decorations.

It is surprising that the procedure of decorating the bones had to be done after death and the process of body decomposition. This is clearly indicated by the location of the decoration on the bone surface and the way dye was applied.

Detail of the forearm, from Żurkiewicz. Modified by me, I added rectangles around the marks on the distal end and middle third of the cubitus. You can see the marks on the cubitus with more detail in the original article.

Some time after the woman’s death the grave was reopened, bone decoration was performed and the bones were re-arranged in anatomical order.

According to Żurkiewicz, this discovery is unique – so far, no comparable custom among other prehistoric communities in Europe has been recorded.

Until now, the few similar discoveries have been interpreted as remnants of tattoos, but none of them have been analysed using so many modern methods, which is why they can not be confirmed with full confidence

Żurkiewicz believes that:

However, women were rarely buried in them. The deceased, whose bones were covered with patterns, had to be an important member of the community.

These findings will be detailed in volume 22 of Baltic-Pontic Studies, which will be available online on the De Gruyter Open platform in August.

My opinion – without knowing anything about the case, site, or archaeology of kurgans in general, just from my knowledge in Orthopaedic Surgery – is that it would be quite easy to make those marks on the cubitus post-mortem, because the cubitus has a very easy surgical access (just under the skin, mostly). On the other hand, opening the grave after decomposition to take the bone, make those marks, and put it back, seems too much work to achieve the same result…

If the marks had been on another anatomical site (say, the anterior aspect of the sacrum, or the inner aspect of the cranium, etc.) maybe the butchery needed to mark the bones would not be worth it (especially for a relative of the deceased), but in this case I hope they have a good reason to support why it must have been made after decomposition.

EDIT (4 AUG 2018): The published paper on this specific burial and the marks: Ritual position and “tattooing” techniques in the funeral practices of the “Barrow cultures” of the Pontic-Caspian steppe/forest-steppe area Porohy 3A, Yampil region, Vinnytsia Oblast: Specialist analysis research perspectives, by Żurkiewicz et al. (2018).

See also on the same region Eneolithic, Yamnaya and Noua culture cemeteries from the first half of the 3rd and the middle of the 2nd millennium BC, Porogy, site 3A, Yampil region, Vinnitsa oblast: Archaeometric and Chronometric Description, Ritual and Tazonomic-Topogenetic identification, by Viktor Klochko et al. (2015), B-P S, vol. 20, P. 78-141.


Sredni Stog, Proto-Corded Ware, and their “steppe admixture”


Once the haplogroups of the announced West Yamna and Yamna settlers in Hungary and Khvalynsk from Ekaterinovka appear, it is to be expected that there won’t be much discussion on the Y-DNA bottlenecks that affected Khvalynsk – Yamna migrations.

So let’s cut to the chase and see where Corded Ware peoples (mainly of R1a-Z645 subclades) got their so-called “steppe admixture” different from that of Yamna. Because, as you might have realized by now, Sredni Stog – and consequently Corded Ware – remains nowadays an undefined (archaeological) mess.

Rassamakin explains it quite well, in the chapter Eneolithic of the Black Sea Steppe; In Levine M., Rassamakin Yu., Kislenko A. and Tatarintseva N., 1999. Late Prehistoric Exploitation of the Eurasian Steppe. McDonald Institute Monographs, University of Cambridge.

NOTE. These are only certain relevant excerpts. The whole chapter is worth a thorough read, whatever position you hold regarding steppe expansions. In fact, he supports the Skelya cultural (macro-)group instead of Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka vs. Sredni Stog, he does not believe in significant expansions from the east (but in local movements and a ‘general evolution’ of Pontic-Caspian steppe cultures to Early Yamna), and offers e.g. the presence of copper and trade from the west (and its poor presence in the east) as an example of the importance of the North Pontic area vis-à-vis Khvalynsk/Repin. Not an interested party in supporting Gimbutas or Anthony, then, if you fear that.

Cultural groups in the North Pontic area

Telegin divided the Sredny Stog culture into three local variants – the Dnepr Culture variant, the Oskol-Donets (Aleksandriya) Culture variant, and the Lower Don (Konstantinovka) Culture variant. He elaborated a periodization based on the evolution of decorative motifs in the pottery assemblages.

At first, the internal contradictions of the Sredny Stog culture were not accorded particular prominence, despite clear intimations of problems when, for example, sites like the settlement of Konstantinovka on the Lower Don, was identified as actually belonging to another, independent culture (Kiyashko 1974). The first real blow to the integrity of the Sredny Stog culture was dealt by Telegin himself, when he removed five Novodanilovka-type sites, and accorded them the status of an independent cultural phenomenon (Telegin 1985a). Until that point, sites of this type had were customarily considered to be within the framework of the late group of Sredny Stog cemeteries, despite having been for long regarded by some as representative of an earlier, independent cultural group (Movsha & Chebotarenko 1969; Zbenovich 1973, 74-5; Gimbutas, Merpert and Danilenko passim). Indeed, it was unclear why these cemeteries had initially been assigned to the Late, rather than the Early, Sredny Stog culture. Now these sites were mechanically stripped out of the one system, but their place in the new system was not clearly defined.

Rassamakin (1999) concept of cultural development of burial rituals in the North Pontic steppe.

Thus a paradox arose. Sites that had served to a considerable extent as the initial basis for the Sredny Stog culture, for the elaboration of its periodization and chronology, were now accepted as forming the core of an essentially different culture. Because of this, by the mid 1980s, both the Sredny Stog culture and the Eneolithic systematization as a whole were becoming rather amorphous. Essentially, the Sredny Stog culture was associated in the minds of many researchers solely with the settlement site at Dereivka, while they had only a confused and indistinct idea of the nature of early Sredny Stog sites. (…) Ultimately a situation developed where all attempts to view new evidence, new local groups, or even cultures through the prism of the Sredny Stog culture were futile, since researchers were unclear about of the essence of the culture itself, and often qualified themselves in footnotes with references to ‘preCorded Ware’ or ‘Corded Ware’ stages, or by relating their observations back directly to the specific sites of Sredny Stog II or Dereivka.

Thus, in the Middle Eneolithic, a number of independent cultures (Kvityana, Repin, Konstantinovka, and, to some degree, Dereivka, Cernavoda and Lower Mikhailovka) emerged in the region that had in the Early Eneolithic been occupied by the Skelya culture, either as lineal successors to this culture or under its influence. But the principal stimuli in this period were the Tripolye tribes, direct imports from whom reach the southern zone of the Dnepr left bank.

It is apparent that, for all their conceptual differences, if we remove Danilenko’s subdivisions, Telegin’s and Danilenko’s models are identical in terms of site periodization and sequence: first Kvityana, then Sredny Stog II, and finally Dereivka.

The North Pontic area in the Eneolithic (4000-3500 BC)

The Kvityana and Dereivka cultures in relation to other sites: 1) Molyukhov Bugor (settlement); 2) Dereivka (settlement); 3) Aleksandriya (settlement); 4) Minevsky Yar (settlement); 5) Khutor Repin (settlement).

Tripolye influence is seen most clearly in the development of the Lower Mikhailovka culture and a new burial rite which spread as far as the Molochnaya. Changes are apparent in kurgan architecture; that is, in the construction of stone chambers, sanctuaries comprising upright elements, and ring-shaped ditches (Rassamakin 1990; 1993; 1994; Pleshivenko & Rassamakin 1994 ). Lower Mikhailovka sites in the northwestern Black Sea coast region are known by a whole series of different designations, one of which, as I have already noted above, is ‘the Bessarabian variant of the Cernavoda I culture’ (Manzura 1993).

The formation of the Kvityana culture should be considered both in the context of the development of the Lower Mikhailovka culture, and in terms of the influence of the Sredny Stog II pottery assemblage. The first is manifested in the development of the kurgan ritual itself, with such structural elements as cromlechs, orthostats and stone cists. These are most apparent to the south, in the zone of contact with the Lower Mikhailovka culture. The second is apparent in the similarity between Kvityana pottery and Sredny Stog II pottery, notably in a number of shared compositional and technical elements, despite the fact that the shapes, techniques and style are all quite different.

As a whole, the Kvityana culture is notably conservative and archaic in appearance; this is manifest both in the preservation of a burial rite involving a supine position, and in the appearance of the pottery which, on the basis of the absence of corded or caterpillar track decoration, was until recently considered the earliest Sredny Stog ware.

(…) we still lack sufficient evidence to trace in detail the path by which the Kvityana culture spread from the Dnepr into the Dnestr-Danube region. The southern steppe route is excluded, but Kvityana sites are recorded on the Southern Bug, in the Dnestr region, and even along the forest-steppe boundary on the Prut Gudging by the numerous excavations of kurgans in this belt. This route in some respects repeats that along which the Skelya elite groups moved. Southward movement along the Southern Bug and its tributaries into the steppe zone is indicated only by isolated sites, the number of which is far smaller than in the Dnestr-Danube region, despite the intensive excavation of kurgans in this region. Evidence for Kvityana penetration into the northwestern Black Sea coast is provided by the appearance in Usatovo assemblages of typical Kvityana figural tubular bone beads, with diagnostic lateral notches on the sides (Malyukevich & Petrenko 1993).

Expansions of Kvityana and Trypillia cultures. Rassamakin (1999)

[The Dereivka] culture is currently only known only from settlement material, notably from sites in the Dnepr region (Dereivka and Molyukhov Bugor), but also from typologically distinctive pottery in the Eneolithic layer of the settlement of Aleksandriya on the Oskol. Dereivka culture pottery has also been recorded at a number of locations in the forest-steppe Dnepr region and the Seversky Donets, at Tetyanchino, Kamennye Pataki, and Minevsky Yar. The ceramic assemblage is well-defined and easily recognizable: vessels consistently display a weak profile and slightly elongated proportions, with high, straight mouths, evenly cut off at the rim, and conical bases (Fig. 3.23). The Dereivka culture occupies the southern part of the forest-steppe region and is bounded to the south by the Kvityana culture.

Telegin rightly noted that Dereivka and Kvityana pottery bore some resemblance to one another. Several fragments of the latter were found in the Dereivka assemblage, and provide evidence for the contemporaneous existence of the two cultures. The Molyukhov Bugor pottery assemblage stands out in terms of a prevalence of pottery with corded decoration, which only occurs in insignificant amounts at Dereivka and Aleksandriya. However, artefactual analysis has not produced any clear guidance for a chronological organization of these sites, as was postulated by Telegin.

Rassamakin’s (1999) periodization of the North Pontic cultures

Late Phase and Final Eneolithic (3500-3000 BC)

In the Dnestr region, southward pressure from Tripolye led to the formation of, firstly, Vykhvatinsk-type sites, and then, in the steppe zone, Usatovo-type sites, which had undoubtedly absorbed some features of the Lower Mikhailovka culture. In the Prut and Middle Dnestr regions, sites of the Gordineşti (Kasperovkao) types are formed (these correspond, in the Romanian Prut region and on the Siret, to sites of the Horodiştea-Erbiceni type, and on the Lower Danube to the Cernavoda III culture: Morintz & Roman 1968; Dinu 1980; 1987). Movsha considers that sites of this type (Kasperovkao in her terminology) also occur in the Southern Bug region.

Sofievka-type sites emerge in the forest-steppes of the Middle Dnepr. A number of researchers (Zbenovich, Dergachev, and Sorokin), taking account of the change in the Tripolye culture at stage C2, propose a special division, considering sites of this period alone as ‘Late Tripolye’. In their view (with which I agree), stage Cl in culture-historical terms still corresponds to ‘Middle Tripolye’.

(…) existing evidence allows us to put forward the following scheme (Fig. 3.49:2). To the east of the Usatovo sites, from the lower reaches of the Southern Bug to the Azov region, encroaching on the Crimean steppes, the Lower Mikhailovka culture remains intact. To the north, upstream along the Dnepr and its tributaries, the Kvityana culture survives in its initial core zone. Between the Southern Bug and the Dnepr, in the contact zone between the three cultures (Tripolye, Lower Mikhailovka and Kvityana) the Dnepr-Bug group of sites emerges, displaying mixed features (Nikolova & Rassamakin 1985; Rassamakin 1988) Tripolye influence on the Dereivka culture appears to increase, as manifested in the appearance of late cultural elements (corded decoration, plastic art, bowls). The fate of the Pivikha culture is unclear. On the Lower Don, the late phase of the Konstantinovka culture (corresponding to the settlements of Konstantinovka and Razdorskoe I: Level 7) continued.

The final stage

The final stage of this period is characterized by two waves of migration, which properly speaking conclude the development of the Eneolithic.(…)

The first migration is connected with the breakdown of that system of Late Tripolye forest-steppe sites of the Prut-Dnestr and Southern Bug regions, dealt with by Movsha within the framework of the Kasperovo local group (and termed Gordineşti by others such as Dergachev, Manzura, and Petrenko). Almost all researchers into the Tripolye culture note the widespread occurrence of diagnostic elements of this group in the south, in the zone of the Usatovo sites and, in the east and southeast, towards the Dnepr and its left bank (Movsha 1984; 1990; 1993; Subbotin & Petrenko 1986; Manzura 1990a). (…)

The migrational wave that left Zhivotilovo-Volchanskoe-type burials in the steppe also linked up the forest-steppe Bug, Dnestr, and Prut regions with the Lower Don region, and, possibly with the North Caucasus, where the late stage of the Maikop culture (the Novosvobodnaya sites) continued. The identical rites of the Maikop culture and Zhivotilovo-Volchanskoe sites makes it difficult to establish the direction of migration, or which was the active side in the process. A number of researchers have given precedence to the Maikop culture. But the spread of the Tripolye assemblage unambiguously indicates the active involvement of the Tripolye tribes.

The system of the latest Eneolithic Pointic cultures and the sites of the Zhivotilovo-Volchanskoe type: 1) Volchanskoe; 2) Zhivotilovka; 3) Vishnevatoe; 4) Koisug

The second migration, at the very end of the Eneolithic, is connected with the spread of the Repin culture (in its second phase) from the Middle Don. Sinyuk defined three main directions: north, to the Upper Don; southwest, into the Dnepr region; and south, to the Lower Don and the Lower Volga. Trifonov considers this broad expansion of the Repin culture to be colonization (Trifonov 1996). The Repin culture level at Razdorskoe I (Razdorskoe I: Level 8) overlies the Konstantinovka levels (Levels 6 and 7), signalling that the Konstantinovka culture had apparently ceased to exist (Kiyashko 1994, 80). It seems that the expansion of the Repin culture is also associated with a reduction in the territorial extent of the Kvityana and Dereivka cultures. Repin burial assemblages, settlements and temporary camps appear in the Seversky Donets basin and in the Eastern Azov region (at Trekhizbenka, Kapitanovo, Aleksandriya, and Razdolnoe). The same complexes are also widely distributed towards the Dnepr (Marina 1992). The most striking western manifestation of Repin elements is seen in the upper horizon of the middle level of the Mikhailovka settlement (Lagodovska et al. 1962, 39-46).

Khvalynsk-Yamna and Sredni Stog-Corded Ware

We already know that Ukraine Eneolithic samples showed steppe ancestry and had apparently began a process of convergence coinciding with (or after) the first Khvalynsk-related migrations. It is unclear what had happened before (i.e. how much “CHG ancestry” was absorbed by Ukraine Neolithic groups in their transition to the Eneolithic before ca. 4500 BC), although in principle we can assume that all Caucasus-related admixture received by North Pontic cultures ca. 4500-4000 BC was mediated by westward movements from Khvalynsk-related peoples.

Image modified from Wang et al. (2018). Samples projected in PCA of 84 modern-day West Eurasian populations (open symbols). Previously known clusters have been marked and referenced. An EHG and a Caucasus ‘clouds’ have been drawn, leaving Pontic-Caspian steppe and derived groups between them.See the original file here.

Contacts with (and later absorption of) Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka-related migrants, as well as heir cultures, like those in the steppe adjacent to the Black Sea coast, and also direct contacts with Caucasus-related populations through Zhivotilovo-Volchanskoe can justify a greater contribution of CHG ancestry ca. 4000-3500 BC. Close contacts with Cucuteni-Trypillia (through Mikhailovka and maybe Kvityana, possibly with WHG and CHG admixture related to Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka) and GAC peoples to the north are the obvious source of further similarities with Yamna. Distinct similarities, that is, if we take into account the different sources and timing of such ancestral components, and Y-chromosome bottlenecks…

Therefore, after a process of convergence ca. 4500-4000 BC, and potentially more contacts with late Eneolithic North Pontic steppe cultures ca. 4000-3500 BC, Proto-Corded Ware peoples must have finally spread from the northernmost (forest-steppe) areas previously occupied by Dereivka, Pivikha, or Sofievka groups from ca. 3300 BC onwards – a date roughly coincident with the expansion of late Khvalynsk/Repin to the west developing the Early Yamna culture, with which it likely entered in contact (hence potentially a source for further admixture convergence ca. 3500-3000 BC).

Only later happened the great migration ca. 3000-2800 BC of Classical Corded Ware culture migrants, at the same time as Early Yamna migrants expanded to the west, and some groups also to the north along the Prut (possibly directly connected to the admixture found in the two Baltic LN/CWC ‘outliers’).

Steppe-related migrations ca. 3100-2600 BC with tentative linguistic identification.

We didn’t know much about Sredni Stog or Corded Ware, and we still don’t. I can’t see the future, and I don’t have access to information from Reich-Jena or Copenhagen groups, and never have. But I just don’t see the need to explain Corded Ware as derived from (coeval) Early Yamna, and I haven’t since the 2015 papers. It was not the best explanation for the data that was published, and the more information we receive, the less sense this theory makes.

However, I guess we will see some groups still resorting to the good old Yamnaya ancestral component™ = Indo-European no matter what, consciously ignoring that a proportion of ancestral components (some combination of EHG:CHG:WHG in this case) means nothing without a proper explanation of their precise temporal and regional origin, and how they connect with Yamna; just like the CHG ancestry = Indo-European trend we are living right now does not make any sense.

Publishing only selected results after trying every possible combination of samples with bioinformatic tools does not help strengthen this connection, either.